Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Absurd Person Singular, reviewed by Alanna Maclean

 

                                    Amy Dunham, rear and Steph Roberts. Photo Helen Drum

Absurd Person Singular by Alan Ayckbourn. Directed by Jarrad West.  Naone Carrel Auditorium. Canberra REP Theatre Acton. Nov 19 - Dec 5. 

IT's a brutal play, pretending to be a domestic comedy but owing much more to the savagery of the absurdists. Yet the audience laughs. 

It’s recognisable, it’s about couples, it’s about relationships. But these relationships are taken down to the bare necessities.

 

Three kitchens, one for each act, one for each couple, one for each Christmas. 

 

The first belongs to Sydney ( Arran McKenna)  and Jane (Amy Dunham) , the Hopcrofts, he desperate to impress the initially off-stage guests, she obsessively chasing the tidy up and the catering. Will up market bank manager Ronald Brewster-Wright( Chris Baldock) and Marion Brewster -Wright (Tracy Noble) be impressed and useful to Sydney’s business pursuits? And what about young couple Geoffrey Jackson (Cole Hilder) and Eva Jackson (Steph Roberts)? 

 

The next Christmas is in the Jackson’s flat kitchen and it’s a right disaster, what with Geoffrey’s ineffectual wanderings and the giant offstage dog and Eva, totally depressed and attempting suicide on a rolling basis. Neither the Brewster Wrights nor the Hopcrofts deal directly with this, although Amy does continue to clean up. 

 

But by the final Christmas Eva’s common sense has asserted itself and she is trying to get Geoff professionally organised, the Brewster Wrights (whose kitchen this) is are descending into poverty among the trappings of plenty and it is the Hopcrofts who have eerily, strangely, won out. 

 

The energy and bleak humour of all this is there in Jarrad West’s relentless production. Sterling performances all round, with Dunham’s housework obsessed Jane and Roberts’ turn in the middle act as the suicidal Eva at her lowest the standouts. 

 

What’s not so evident is the time and the place. It ’s a 1970s piece and probably needs to stay there. And the nuances of English class could use more clarity, especially in the look of that final kitchen to which Marion’s snobbish remarks about the domestic arrangements of others have been leading us all along.  Sure, by then the rot has set in with the Brewster-Wrights but the grandeur should remain. 

 

It’s not your predictably cheerful Christmas show but in the time of COVID it certainly has a suitably dismal resonance.  

HOT TO TROT - QL2 Dance

"Circle: Complete" - Sarah Long 


Directed by Ruth Osborne – Lighting designed by Guy Harding

QL2 Theatre, Gorman  Arts Centre – November 21st.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

QL2 Dance’s “Hot to Trot” program is an annual presentation which gives young aspiring choreographers who have been through the QL2 Dance process an opportunity to stretch their wings. This year, despite additional challenges provided by Covid-19 restrictions, eleven young artists took up the opportunity, resulting in an interesting program of ten works, two of which were outstanding.

Filmed dance has really come to the fore during Covid-19 as young dancers quickly adapt to the opportunities offered by streaming technology. Two interesting examples began the program.

For her film “Flowering”, Natsuko Yonezawa gathered images of young dancers engrossed in rehearsal for QL2’s recent “Leap into Chaos” production. Using a circular frame she transformed these images into a continuous kaleidoscopic sequence in which the dancers merged into each other to suggest flowers growing and blooming. It was a lovely idea superbly executed.

More conventional but no less successful was Magnus Meagher’s film “Stairs”. Filmed in various locations around Canberra, this light-hearted film followed three young men as they experimented with interesting and athletic ways of negotiating familiar stairways.

Perhaps it was a mindset brought on by lockdown, but several of the works featured strong driving music and mechanical movements. Among these were “Programmed Pulse” created by Alyse and Mia Canton in which Alyse and Mia were joined by Cassidy Thomson and Sofie Nielson to interpret the feeling of being stuck in constant repetition each day.

Pippi Keogh tackled a similar theme with four dancers for her work “(re)Strict” which explored ideas of freedom and control, while Rory Warne, working with three dancers, explored notions of the systematic workings of daily life with his work “Face On”.

"I knew you'd come back to me" - Hollie Knowles 


Hollie Knowles drew her inspiration from the songs of Taylor Swift to create an interesting but not-always-obvious love triangle, performed by Alyse Canton, Hollie Knowles and Sarah Long with her work “I knew You’d Come Back To Me”.   Courtney Tha impressed with her clever, cheeky solo “Faking it till you Make it” which had a surprisingly sinister climax.

Sarah Long’s ambitious work “Circle: Complete” energetically performed by Danny Riley, Hollie Knowles, Mia Canton and Rory Warne, employing perhaps more calisthenics than dance, attempted a complicated exploration of the Hero’s Journey by four individuals. While it was difficult to discern from the movement whether or not they were successful, it was certainly spectacular and entertaining.

Describe The Shape of T at The Beginning of The" - Lillian Cook


Lillian Cooks’ “Describe the Shape of T at The Beginning of The” was one of two outstanding creations in this program for which Alyse Canton, Caitlin Bissett, Mia Canton and Sarah Long, costumed in pink petticoats, responded to live voice overs among an imaginatively-lit arrangement of ropes, chairs and cubes, created an arresting dream-like, visually interesting and psychologically involving dance- work.

"Similar. Same but Different" - Danny Riley 

The other was Danny Riley’s solo “Similar. Same but Different”, a touching homage to his dancer brother Jack.  For this solo, Riley recreated a work that his brother had created some years ago around a big red chair.

Performing in front of a film of his brother dancing that work, using the same red chair and white tuxedo, Riley mirrored his brother, breaking out every so often to express his own individuality.  It was a touching idea, superbly conceived and executed.

 

                                           Images by Lorna Sim

  

          This review first published in the digital edition of CITY NEWS on 23.11.20

Monday, November 23, 2020

BY ROYAL FAVOUR

 


Art Song Canberra

Sarahlouise Owens, soprano

Natalia Tkachenko, piano

Wesley Music Centre, Forrest Sunday 22 November

 

Reviewed by Len Power

 

Richard Wagner and many other famous composers relied on the generous patronage of royal personages who commissioned large amounts of repertoire.  Educated in the arts, many royals were also known to compose music and prose as well.

In their Art Song Canberra concert, ‘By Royal Favour’, Sarahlouise Owens, soprano, and Natalia Tkachenko, piano, presented various favourites of Royals of the 19th century, concentrating on the Victorian and Romanov courts.

Sarahlouise Owens has worked extensively in Europe and is a graduate of the ANU School of Music and Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester.  She has established herself as a busy concert artist and recitalist of Art Song since her return to Australia.

Natalia Tkachenko graduated with honours from the Moscow State Institute of Music and worked extensively in Moscow, France, Germany and South Korea before residing in Canberra and working with the ANU School of Music.

Natalia Tkechenko and Sarahlouise Owens
 

Music composition had formed an important part of the early musical education of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband.  Three of his songs were included in the concert – ‘Serenade’, ‘To A Messenger’ and ‘Mourning Song’.  All three were romantic and melodic and Sarahlouise Owens sang them simply but with great feeling.

Queen Victoria and Price Albert were great admirers of the music of Felix Mendelssohn.  His song, ‘First Loss’, was given a hauntingly beautiful performance by Owens and her fine singing of ‘Italy’, by Mendelssohn’s sister, Fanny, evoked the rich colour and atmosphere of that country.

Songs by the well-known Russian composers, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Rachmaninov were also presented.  Tchaikovsky’s ‘I Opened A Window’ and ‘First Date’, set to poems by Konstantin Romanov, the grandson of Emperor Nicholas I of Russia, were especially well sung by Owens.  The piano playing by Tkachenko of ‘First Date’ was outstanding.

Also included were songs by the now lesser known but famous in their day, Samuel Maykapar and Arseny Koreshchenko.  ’My Dreams Shone In Them!’ by Maykapar was a hauntingly melodic work that was sung with notable delicacy and great warmth by Owens.

Once again, Sarahlouise Owens presented a well-researched concert that gave the music an added level of historical and human interest.  With her fine singing and the superb piano playing of Natalia Tkachenko, we were treated to an expert and enjoyable 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.

 

‘Theatre of Power’, a regular podcast on Canberra’s performing arts scene with Len Power, can be heard on Spotify, ITunes and other selected platforms or at https://player.whooshkaa.com/shows/theatre-of-power.

 

 

Sunday, November 22, 2020

HOT TO TROT 2020

 


QL2 Dance

Artistic Director: Ruth Osborne

QL2 Theatre, Gorman Arts Centre to 22 November

 

Reviewed by Len Power 21 November 2020

 

‘Hot To Trot’ is always worth looking forward to every year at this time.  In spite of the difficulties faced in 2020, it was great to be able to be able to observe the work of the senior Quantum Leapers again as they step into the role of choreographer.  This project is an important starting point in the development of their choreographic journey and their leadership potential.

Once again the imagination and skill of these young artists was on display in a set of dances that were thought-provoking, visually arresting and highly entertaining.  Music to accompany the dances was well-chosen and the lighting designs by Guy Harding gave an important atmospheric dimension to many of the dances.

The program started with two filmed choreographic works.  ‘Flowering’, choreographed and filmed by Natsuko Yonezawa, was a visually stunning and colourful look at dancers as if they were flowers, growing and blooming.  It was a nicely thought out concept that worked very well.  ‘Stairs’, choreographed and filmed by Magnus Meagher, involved three dancers with the straight lines of stairs used as a contrast to the swirling motion of the dancers to produce an atmospheric work of abstract beauty.

‘Similar, Same But Different’ was a conceptually clever dance that contrasted similarities as well as the differences between two people – the choreographer and his brother.  It was choreographed and danced with notable skill by Danny Riley and proved to be one of the highlights of the program.

Alyse and Mia Canton were next with ‘Programmed Pulse’ in which four dancers demonstrated the necessity to break out of the routines in our daily lives.  The repeating patterns and the precise co-ordination between the dancers was a feature that made this a very satisfying and appealing work.

The next item, ‘Faking It Till You Make It’, was a witty and mature work choreographed and danced by Courtney Tha.  This audience-pleasing dance was another of the show’s highlights.  Quirky, imaginative and great fun with its clever concept, it was both visually pleasing as well as thought-provoking.

Lillian Cook’s ‘Describe The Shape Of T At The Beginning Of The’ focussed on learning and observation.  This dreamlike, almost surreal work had a strong visual impact and was performed very well by the four dancers.

Pippi Keogh then gave us’ [re]STRICT’ which explored the relationship between freedom and control.  Featuring precise patterns of dance by four dancers, it was strong and clear conceptually and beautiful to watch.

‘I Knew You’d Come Back To Me’ focussed on the highs and lows of being involved in a love triangle.  Choreographed by Hollie Knowles, the pleasure and pain of relationships was skilfully conceptualized and performed very well by the three dancers.

Rory Warne’s ‘Face On’ gave us a ritualistic, almost mechanical concept in his dance about a world preoccupied with aesthetics.  The precise, intricate ideas behind this story were cleverly realized in dance terms and skilfully performed by his three dancers.

The final work, ‘Circle: Complete’ was choreographed by Sarah Long.  Following four people in their own individual exploration of the Hero’s Journey, it was a clever comment on popular media’s worship of heroes.  It was danced with great flair by the four dancers.  The costumes added a colourful extra dimension to this work.

Once again this year, these young choreographers demonstrated strong imagination and skill in developing and producing the dances presented.  All of the works were of a consistently high standard in terms of concept and execution.  The choreographers were supported by the enthusiastic and fine dancing by the performers in each item.

 

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

 

‘Theatre of Power’, a regular podcast on Canberra’s performing arts scene with Len Power, can be heard on Spotify, ITunes and other selected platforms or at https://player.whooshkaa.com/shows/theatre-of-power.

 

 

Saturday, November 21, 2020

ABSURD PERSON SINGULAR


Written by Alan Ayckbourn

Directed by Jarrad West

Canberra REP at Theatre 3, Acton to 5 December

 

Reviewed by Len Power 20 November 2020

 

‘Absurd Person Singular’ was playwright Alan Ayckbourn’s first dark comedy after his earlier successes, ‘Relatively Speaking’ and ‘How The Other Half Loves’.  It was a huge hit in London in 1973 and was the most successful comedy on Broadway by a British playwright since the original production of ‘Blithe Spirit’ in 1941.

Set in three different kitchens over three successive Christmases, it details the changing fortunes of three couples over those three years.  Sidney and Jane Hopcroft are desperate to move up the ladder socially and financially, Geoffrey and Eva Jackson are struggling with marital problems and Ronald and Marion Brewster-Wright are smugly well-off and disdainful of the others at the start of the play.

Alan Ayckbourn has said, ‘Comedy is tragedy interrupted’.  There’s certainly a fine line between comedy and tragedy in this play.  With issues like attempted suicide and alcoholism to be explored, it needs careful playing and direction.  The actors must play the truth in their characters and the comedy in their actions and the situations will arise naturally.  Play it for just for laughs and it can all look desperate and unfunny and, these days, potentially offensive.

Director, Jarrad West, has a high-powered, experienced cast but has opted to push the surface comic aspects at the expense of the tragic undercurrents.  As a result, there’s a lack of depth in the playing at times with a lot of shouting and eccentric physical behaviour for no clear reason.  It’s theatrical and mannered rather than naturally funny.

Happily, Chris Baldock achieves a fine, quiet study of a broken man in the third act and Steph Roberts gives a strong performance displaying her character’s highs and lows with great depth throughout the play.  Her dogged and silent determination to commit suicide in the second act is so real it becomes nervously funny all by itself.  We know we shouldn’t be laughing at her actions, but we can’t help it.  That’s how a tragi-comedy should work.

The set, comprising three different kitchens, has been designed very well by Andrew Kay.  The third act kitchen with its old appliances and colour scheme was a perfect reflection of the fading fortunes of the Brewster-Wright couple.  Neville Pye’s sound design was impressive for the rain and thunderstorm effects in the first act but the unseen growling dog, George, in the second act sounded like an angry Tyrannosaurus Rex.

There are laughs in this production but there’s more humour to be found under the surface of this play if we get to know the characters as real people displaying human failings.  The exaggerated comic types and the over-frantic playing in this production reduced its effectiveness overall.

 

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

 

‘Theatre of Power’, a regular podcast on Canberra’s performing arts scene with Len Power, can be heard on Spotify, ITunes and other selected platforms or at https://player.whooshkaa.com/shows/theatre-of-power.