Sunday, May 22, 2022

THREE TALL WOMEN by Edward Albee



Directed by Sophie Benassi – Set and costume design by Sophie Benassi - Movement direction by Ylaria Rogers - Lighting designed by Stephen Still – Sound designed by Neville Pye

Presented by Chaika Theatre Company – ACT Hub 4th to 21st May 2022

Performance on 18th May reviewed by Bill Stephens.


Edward Albee’s Pulitzer Prize winning play “Three Tall Women” proved an auspicious choice by Chaika Theatre Company to stake its claim for attention among Canberra’s burgeoning theatre companies.  

Written in 1990 the play won Albee his third Pulitzer Prize and was hailed by commentators at the time as a return to form by the playwright after a period in which it was feared his creative powers had begun to wane. Also noted at the time were the similarities of events in the play that reflected Albee’s own life experience of leaving home as an 18 year-old to escape the disapproval of his conservative adoptive parents who disapproved of his sexuality.

“Three Tall Women” revolves around a wealthy, cantankerous 92 year-old woman, (Karen Vickery).  In the first act this woman is being attended by a kindly, bemused 52 year-old carer, (Lainie Hart) and being questioned by a 26 year-old women, (Natasha Vickery) who has been sent by the woman’s lawyers to clear up some perceived  irregularities in her accounts.

 The elderly woman dominates the conversation with sometimes confusing recollections of the events in her life, while also demanding attention from the others to painfully arrange herself in her chair, walk her unsteadily to the toilet, or re-arrange her in her chair when she returns. The first act ends when the woman has a stroke mid-conversation.

The ages of the women are important because in the second act it becomes obvious that the women now represent the woman at different stages of her life. Behind them, through a gauze curtain, can be seen an inert figure in a bed, representing the woman either dying or already dead. During the course of this act a young man (Blue Hyslop), presumably her estranged son, enters and sits wordlessly by her bedside, while the three women continue to discuss their lives seeking to define “the happiest moment”.

Karen Vickery - Lainie Hart - Natasha Vickery in "Three Tall Women" 


Sophie Benassi has produced a handsome, thoughtful production, casting three of the city’s most accomplished actresses, clothing them in elegant costumes and surrounding them with carefully chosen décor to reflect the wealth of the central protagonist. Benassi’s direction is clear and appropriate through-out and despite the wordiness of the play, she never allows the action to become static.

As the oldest of the three women, Karen Vickery commands the stage with a finely-observed performance that is a continuous joy to watch.  However she by no means steals the show as Lainie Hart and Natasha Vickery match and compliment her every moment throughout the play.

Indeed one of the chief delights of this production is watching the wordless interplay and body language between the three actresses as they deliver and respond to Albee’s acerbic, often confronting, dialogue.

With this production of “Three Tall Women”, Chaika Theatre Company has set a high benchmark for future productions at the ACT Hub.


                                                    Photos by Jane Duong.


   This review also published in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW. www.artsreview.com.au 

Friday, May 20, 2022

JANE EYRE

 

Nelle Lee as Jane Eyre


Directed by Michael Futcher for Shake & Stir Theatre Co - .Adapted by Nelle Lee and Nick Skubj -Designed by Josh McIntosh – Composed by Sarah McLeod - Additional Music and Sound Design by Guy Webster - Lighting Design by Jason Glenwright.

Canberra Theatre Centre Playhouse 17th – 21st May.

Opening night performance reviewed by Bill Stephens

Shake & Stir Theatre Company has perfected the art of presenting gothic drama. This lively production of the Charlotte Bronte’s epic novel, here, cleverly co-adapted by Nelle Lee and Nick Skubj to compress the action into a little over two hours of the spine-tingling melodrama, for which Josh McIntosh has provided a towering setting complete with strange,  shadowy characters inhabiting creepy rooms, dangerous staircases, terrifying storms and even a spectacular fire.

Most impressive of all however is the fact that all the myriad of characters in this story are depicted, rather brilliantly, by just four actors Nelle Lee, Julian Garner, Jodie le Vesconte and Sarah McLeod.

Not having read the novel, and without the benefit of a printed program as a guide, the actors accomplished this feat so remarkably that is difficult to be definite about which actor portrayed which role, but as the only male in the quartet perhaps it’s safe to say that Julian Garner played the object of Jane Eyre’s passion, Mr. Rochester, as well as the loathsome preacher Mr. Brocklehurst, and the spiteful young bully, John Reed.

Jodie le Vesconte played Jane’s cruel aunt, Sarah Reed, as well as a number of other characters, while Sarah McLeod played a series of grotesques including a heavily tattooed pianist who throughout played and sang marvellous atmospheric songs (composed by McLeod) as well as Mr. Rochester’s mad first wife, locked away in the attic of Thornfield Hall and conveniently incinerated when Thornfield spectacularly burns to the ground.

 

Julian Garner and Nelle Lee in "Jane Eyre"

Photo: Dylan Evans

Captivating, Nelle Lee gives a fascinatingly nuanced performance as Jane Eyre, commencing the play as a 10 year-old, and finally as a mature adult, who having survived the cruelties inflicted on her by just about everyone she meets in her journey, finally gets her happy ending. That is, if you accept that having to look after the blind, badly disfigured Mr. Rochester for the rest of his life is a happy ending.

It says much for the power of the presentation, the clarity of the adaptation and the brilliance of Michael Futcher’s direction, that I soon gave up trying to identify which actor was playing which role and gave in to the twists and turns of the story, finding myself slightly shocked when only four actors took the stage at the end to acknowledge the enthusiastic applause of the appreciative audience.

It is fast becoming the norm for companies to provide digital programs for patrons to download before coming to the theatre. In this case I didn’t see anyone in the audience holding one. What a pity then that the majority of the audience at this performance, and indeed those at following performances, will probably never know the names of the four brilliant actors they had been watching, or the equally brilliant creatives responsible for the remarkable theatrical experience they had just enjoyed.

 

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

City of Gold by Meyne Wyatt

 

City of Gold by Meyne Wyatt.  Sydney Theatre Company and Black Swan State Theatre Company of West Australia at Wharf 1, Sydney, May 7 to June 11, 2022.

This production opened at the Heath Ledger Theatre, Perth WA, on 19th March 2022.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
May 18

Director – Shari Sebbens; Designer – Tyler Hill; Design Consultant – Zoë Atkinson
Lighting Designer – Verity Hampson; Composer & Sound Designer – Rachael Dease
Assistant Director – Daley Rangi; Video Designer – Michael Carmody
Fight Choreographer – Nastassja Kruger; Vocal Coach – Julia Moody
Lighting Associate – Jasmine Rysk

Performers:
Mateo Black – Mathew Cooper
Whitman/Andrews – St John Cowcher
Carina Black – Simone Detourbet
Cliffhanger – Ian Michael
Director/Simmonds/Acting Commander – Myles Pollard
Dad – Trevor Ryan
Breythe Black – Meyne Wyatt


The image of Meyne Wyatt, with no text, on the front cover of the program for City of Gold (above) says it all.  He is angry – both as an actor and in role as Breythe Black – because of the racist attitudes and deadly violence against Indigenous people in Australia.

His play begins with black satire as Breythe is required to play a token Aboriginal for a TV ad, presumably to present a politically correct face to sell the product on Australia Day.  Dressed only in a lap-lap, Breythe is queried by the film director.  He is a bit too white; maybe you need a blackface.  Justifiably, as the usual humiliating jokes sink in, Breythe walks away from the job – in ‘tinsel-town' Sydney – and has to return to his home town, Kalgoorlie WA – ironically known as the City of Gold.  

His success as an actor in the white world has meant he has missed his father’s death and must now front up to the funeral and face up to his aggressive brother Mateo and his self-sacrificing sister Carina – who is now left to look after their unwell mother and their intellectually disabled cousin ‘Cliffhanger’; and try to manage the family’s legal matters because their father’s cancer meant that he had not properly signed all the appropriate documents.

Act Two begins with Breythe – or is it Meyne – up on the verandah roof giving a pull-no-punches lengthy tirade directly at us, the white audience rich enough to go to the theatre to watch him perform.  Meyne, of course, is a very successful Indigenous actor.  Is he acting the role of Breythe, or is he not acting but confronting us in anger for real?  In the play, Breythe’s sister had addressed a street protest with an emotional and forceful speech in Kalgoorlie against the killings there. Now Breythe/Meyne addresses us with even more anger, where Carina had tried to be rational and hoped to calm the situation down.  The deaths are not just in distant Kalgoorlie, but so often in police custody all over the nation.

Is Meyne justified in breaking the fourth wall in this way?  Of course he is.  The Australian Institute of Criminology reported in December 2021:

In the 30 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, the NDICP has recorded 489 Indigenous deaths in custody, including 320 in prison, 165 in police custody or custody-related operations and 4 in youth detention.

In 2020–21 there were 82 deaths in custody, 31 fewer than in 2019–20. The total included 15 Indigenous deaths and 67 non-Indigenous deaths.

In this period 66 of those deaths were in prison custody, 12 of these were of Indigenous people. Of the deaths for which manner of death was known, natural causes were the most common.

The other 16 deaths were in police custody. Three of these were of Indigenous people, and 13 were of non-Indigenous people.


Meyne’s play opened in Perth on March 19 this year.  On March 29 the National Indigenous Radio Service reported A young Noongar man has died in a Perth prison on Friday, marking the fifth Indigenous death in custody in Australia this year. “Preliminary reports indicate there are no suspicious circumstances,” the [official] statement said.  “In accordance with all deaths in custody, the WA Police Force will investigate and prepare a report for the state coroner.”

In his play, Meyne makes the opening scene almost funny – that is, we white well-off people could laugh a little, even though we might feel slightly embarrassed, as Breythe appears in his lap-lap and the camera crew arrive to film him.

But there is no laughter when the police are involved – in the play, or in reality.

This is a confronting, brave use of theatre which needs to be shown widely and, I hope, have the text become an essential study in high schools.

Publication Information:
Strawberry Hills, NSW. : Currency Press, in association with Griffin Theatre Company, 2019. ©2019.

Griffin Theatre at The Stables, in Sydney, has written: 

"Meyne Wyatt burst onto the acting scene in 2011’s Silent Disco at Griffin, going on to grace our screens (The Sapphires, Redfern Now, Mystery Road) and star on the Broadway stage (Peter Pan). Now he returns to the Stables as a playwright who is as courageous as he is merciless. It may be unclear where character ends and creator begins."




 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Jane Eyre

 

Jane Eyre – adapted from the novel by Charlotte Bronte by shake & stir theatre co (Queensland Performing Arts Centre) co-production with Canberra Theatre Centre, The Playhouse, May 17-21, 2022.


Reviewed by Frank McKone
May 17

Co-Adaptors: Nelle Lee and Nick Skubij
Director: Michael Futcher
Designer : Josh McIntosh
Composer: Sarah McLeod
Additional Music and Sound Designer: Guy Webster

Performed by Julian Garner, Nelle Lee, Jodie le Vesconte and Sarah McLeod
(Swings Maddison Burridge, Hilary Harrison, Nick James)

Image credits: Dylan Evans; David Fell

__________________________________________________________________
Recommended for ages 12+

Jane Eyre contains adult themes, simulated violence and supernatural elements and will feature strobe, loud music and fire/smoke/haze effects.

https://theatrenorth.com.au/jane-eyre

shake & stir have certainly lived up to their name.  I have never been quite so shaken in a theatre as I was by the fire burning down Mr Rochester’s three-storey mansion, by his mad wife.  I thought of all those theatres back to Shakespeare’s Globe burnt down by theatre companies doing things like firing a cannon as a special effect.  Luckily the Canberra Playhouse – and all the theatres on their tour so far – has survived.  shake & stir explain: “By working with the internationally-revered company, Live Element, we overcame these [live flame effects] challenges and received the expertise necessary to develop and implement a remarkable system that both serviced the play exceptionally well and wowed this audience.”

It certainly did.  

I was equally stirred by the emotional quality of the story, as created by Nelle Lee in the role of Jane, from a bright ten-year-old who questions with unerring common sense the attitudes of surrounding adults, especially concerning how girls should behave; through to a grown-up woman who has learned to develop her self-awareness, recognising the truth in her feelings for Rochester while maintaining her own independence as a person in her own right – so that she can decide to marry him in a true partnership.

Though I thought I knew Charlotte Bronte’s novel, this adaptation wowed me: this is not a ‘Gothic’ tale, but proof of Bronte’s understanding of what it meant to be a New Woman in her own time, the 1840s; and how essential it is to our understanding today of the proper place of women.  280 years later we are still struggling daily with the improper view that men are ‘naturally’ the decision-makers.  In this production Julian Garner’s embarrassingly awful budding Christian missionary, St. John Rivers, who would take Jane to India, encapsulates the very men we still see in politics, business and at all levels in society.  How thankful I felt when Jane simply said ‘No’ to that self-aggrandising man.

To know that this production has been made with support for its educational purpose from the Queensland state government is very welcome indeed.  Arts Queensland has recorded its positive response:

“While renowned for their ability to adapt classic literary material into high-quality accessible stage works, Jane Eyre was one of shake & stir’s most ambitious creative productions requiring the development of a play script, an original score of accompanying music and an imaginative set with touring capability.

Jane Eyre featured a cast of four Queensland artists – most playing more than one character – with music composed and performed by multi ARIA Award winner and The Superjesus frontwoman Sarah McLeod.”  With much more to read at
[ https://www.arts.qld.gov.au/case-studies/from-page-to-stage-shake-and-stirs-jane-eyre ]

This is a stunning production, the sixth by shake & stir I have reviewed and the best, especially for the originality of the staging, the use of live singing and piano playing by Sarah McLeod, and the lighting and sound effects – as well as the frightening flames!  Miss it, if you dare.

The young Jane Eyre comforting school friend Helen, dying of tuberculosis
Jane Eyre - shake & stir, 2002




 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

JANE EYRE

 


Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. 

Adapted for the stage by Nelle Lee and Nick Skubij. Directed by Michael Futcher. Designed by Josh Macintosh. Original music and songs composed by Sarah McLeod.  Cast: Helen Howard. Nelle Lee, Sarah McLeod. Julian Garner. The Playhouse. Canberra Theatre Centre. May 17-21 2022. Bookings: www.canberratheatre.org.au; 62435711

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins


 

Shake ‘n Stir Theatre Company’s original adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s gothic tale, Jane Eyre is a theatrical powerhouse. Shake n Stir are fiercely faithful to the spirit of Bronte’s work. Coming as it does at the end of the gothic literary era, Jane Eyre’s search for independence and love is marked by the dark and brooding elements of the gothic era. In a production so gripping that an audience is utterly transfixed, Jane Eyre ( beautifully played by Nelle Lee) suffers the childhood cruelty of  her bitter Aunt Reid (Helen Howard) before being sent to a charity school for eight years. At Thornfield Hall, Jane discovers a love for her mysterious employer Mr Rochester, played with commanding presence and conviction by Julian Garner, only to discover the existence of his mad and entrapped wife. 

Nelle Lee as Jane Eyre. Julian Garner as Rochester
A daunting air of mystery and dread hangs over Josh Macintosh’s dimly lit set design for Shake n Stir’s riveting production of Jane Eyre. Sarah McLeod’s mood evoking composition and original songs rent the air with fierce foreboding.  The composer/singer astounds with a voice that can chill the spine or thaw the coldest heart. Director Futcher’s clear sighted vision has combined the element in perfect accord with a superb quartet of actors and innovative creatives. The result is a production that stirs and shakes the mind and soul as we are drawn irrevocably into Charlotte Bronte’s tale of a young girl in search of freedom, love and independence.  Bronte’s saga of suffering and longing and eventual happiness and independent freedom is told with stunning clarity by  four actors who deftly take on the many characters of Nelle Lee and Nick Skubij’s faithful and forceful adaptation. Lee and Skubij skilfully interweave the elements of cruelty and suffering at the aunt’s residence, the confinement and deprived liberty of the charity school and the horrific madness of the imprisoned Bertha Mason, played to macabre effect by Sarah McLeod, who also doubles at times as a dancing music box doll interpretation of Rochester’s young ward Adele.   Director Michael Futcher adroitly manoeuvres the action to provide a clear narrative while also orchestrating the tension and the suspense, assisted by McLeod’s haunting melodies and Macintosh’s lighting and astounding use of pyrotechnics. It is the production’s gripping fusion of the many aspects of production that makes this an unforgettable and thought-provoking performance.

 Central to the success of Shake ‘n Stir's Jane Eyre is the quality and versatility of Futcher’s four actors. While Garner, Howard and McLeod switch characters with convincing agility, Lee remains in the eponymous role, swept along by fate and fortune. Central to the plot is the relationship between Jane Eyre and her employer Mr. Rochester. Lee and Garner chart the challenging journey from servant and master to romantic lovers, thwarted by a dark secret and reunited by the power of devotion with performances that charm and move to tears. Howard and McLeod support the core story with an admirable display of believable versatility. In casting four excellent performers to play the many roles, Futcher has also created a powerfully effective ensemble  to bring Bronte’s characters to life.

A happy ending gives cause for reflection in Shake ‘n Stir’s production. Their streamlined account of the story of a young girl innately independent and battling the forces of a society constrained by convention, intolerant morality and abusive faith reveals a writer living in the isolated world of the Yorkshire moors  propounding a feminist vision well ahead of her time and pleading for a compassionate and just society. It is a plea echoed in a true and impactful depiction of Bronte’s moral saga. Shake ‘n Stir Theatre Company’s inspired and inspiring production sets the imagination on fire in a theatrical triumph that will linger long after the audience leaves the theatre.

Photos by David Fell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Tuesday, May 17, 2022

BECOMING BEATRIX


Chloe Lankshear, soprano

Francis Greep, piano

The Song Company

Wesley Music Centre, Forrest 14 May

 

Reviewed by Len Power

 

Beatrix Potter was the author of ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’ and 22 other stories which are still popular with children over a hundred years later.  She was also an artist, conservationist and researcher and left over 4000 acres of land to the National Trust in Britain.  Her life story is a fascinating one and her achievements as a woman at the start of the 20th century were considerable.

Soprano, Chloe Lankshear, and pianist, Francis Greep, have fashioned Potter’s story into an entertainment of songs linked by recorded excerpts of “Beatrix Potter: Artist, Storyteller and Countrywoman: by Judy Taylor as read by Patricia Routledge.  The chosen songs commented on particular times in Potter’s life.

The songs were by a wide range of composers including Sally Whitwell, Claude Debussy, Robert Schumann, Ross Edwards, Aaron Copland and others.

Dressed in period costume, Lankshear presented the songs with a few well-chosen props to set the scene.  As the recorded excerpts about Potter’s life played between the songs, she stayed in character, creating an impressive period atmosphere for the whole concert.

Francis Greep and Chloe Lankshear

The program began with two songs by Sally Whitwell to poems by Christina Rossetti.  Both “Skylark” and “Linnet” set the scene for Beatrix Potter’s love of nature. Chloe Lankshear’s beautiful, clear singing of these joyous songs was delightful.

This happy mood continued with three more atmospheric songs of nature. “Les Papillons” (The butterflies) by Claude Debussy was followed by “Le Rossignol des Lilas” (The nightingale in the lilac) by Reynaldo Hahn and “Er ist’s” (Spring is here!) by Hugo Wolf.  All were sung with skill and warmth and conveyed a sense of Potter’s deep love of nature.  Francis Greep’s playing of “Er ist’s” was especially notable.

The program continued with romantic songs underlining Potter’s engagement to Norman Warne and then turned darker to reflect the tragedy of Warne’s sudden death.  Two works by George Crumb, “Wind Elegy” and “Let it be forgotten” were sung with particular delicacy and great feeling.

The next work, “To A Child” from the poem by Judith Wright with music by Ross Edwards was also given a fine, reflective performance.

It was followed by the highlight of the program, “Warble for Lilac Time” from the poem by Walt Whitman with music by Elliott Carter.  This dramatic work was superbly sung, clearly showing Lankshear’s technical skills.  Francis Greep’s piano playing of this complex work was excellent.

This fine program of songs finished with an appropriately sensitive performance of “Nature, the gentlest mother” by Aaron Copland to the words of Emily Dickinson.

 

 Photo by Eva Frey

 This review was first published in the Canberra CityNews digital edition of 15 May.

 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/.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

A Letter for Molly

 

A Letter for Molly by Brittanie Shipway.  Ensemble Theatre, Sydney May 9 – June 4, 2022.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
Opening Night May 13

Creatives:
Director/Understudy:    Ursula Yovich; Assistant Director: Erin Taylor
Visual Art & Cultural Consultant
: Alison Williams
Set & Costume Designer
: Hugh O’Connor
Lighting Designer
: Kelsey Lee; Composer & Sound Designer: Brendon Boney
Video Designer
: Morgan Moroney
Stage Manager
: Lauren Tulloh; Assistant Stage Manager: Bronte Schuftan
Costume Supervisor
: Sara Kolijn; Workshop Dramaturg: Miranda Middleton
Technical Creative Intern
: Aroha Pehi; Movement Consultant: Scott Witt

Cast:
Miimi - Lisa Maza
Darlene/Nurse - Paula Nazarski
Linda/Receptionist - Nazaree Dickerson
Renee - Brittanie Shipway
Nick/Doctor/Photographer - Joel Granger
Understudy - Toby Blome

*In respect of Gumbaynggirr culture, characters are listed in order of Elder status.

Photos by Prudence Upton

The four women in the opening fire and smoking ceremony

A Letter for Molly is a heart-warming celebration of more than survival over four generations of Gumbayngirr women.  It is a truth-telling record of their lives as ordinary people since the 1960s – when Miimi forcefully tells her daughter Darlene never to say she is ‘Aboriginal’ but just ‘Australian’ – to  modern times when Renee is determined to become a successful Indigenous artist.  

Humour is central to their culture: their strength in difficult times, and the core strength of the theatre-work they have created.  If you want to find Gumbayngirr country, near Nambucca on the New South Wales north coast, just look for the Big Banana!

Each woman gives birth to a daughter – the source of love, loyalty, and struggle to survive as a single mother.  Despite a kind of recognition in the 1967 Referendum which gave the Federal Government constitutional power for the benefit of Aboriginal people; despite the Mabo decision which established land rights in the 1990s; and despite Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s 2008 national apology for the taking away of Aboriginal children by Federal and State Governments over the previous 100 years – the three events are made to form a background time-line in the audio soundtrack – the truth is that by Renee’s time the Gumbayngirr language is fading, even while traditions of spiritual connections remain.

Conventions and ways of living have changed, too.  In the play, time shifts back and forth and perhaps the funniest scene is when Renee, who shares a house with a gay man, Nick, in a genuine friendship without sex, takes a pregnancy test, the result of a brief fling elsewhere.

Brittanie Shipway and Joel Granger
as Renee and Nick
in A Letter for Molly

Renee succeeds as an artist after making a different decision about her personal life than her predecessors.  Her story of artistic creation, in an odd and unusual way, parallels the creation of this work of theatre art in which she appears.  

There is much to learn while you thoroughly enjoy the twists and turns of life with the Gumbayngirr people, received with great enthusiasm by the opening night audience with typical Ensemble warmth of feeling.  Not to be missed.

The family photo taken by Nick:
Miimi, seated (Lisa Maza)
L-R behind: Linda (Nazaree Dickerson); Darlene (Paula Nazarski); Renee (Brittanie Shipway)
in A Letter for Molly