Sunday, May 28, 2017

Icons passing and passing through…

Last week saw the beginning of the end for Teatro Vivaldi, with a sharp little Noel Coward double bill directed by Tony Turner (who used to head Drama at ANU) as a not quite final nod to the years of good food and shows this little corner of the ANU Arts Centre has hosted. (Not the greatest stuff that Coward ever wrote but the evening was funny and two of his short plays, Mild Oats and Weatherwise, supported delicious performances from the likes of Elaine Noone, Duncan Driver, Alessa Kron and Henry Strand)

Not quite final because there’ll be a couple of appearances by George Huitker and his band Junk Sculpture and Shortis and Simpson, along with Peter Casey, will do the final few shows.

The Arts Centre itself of course is going. And what a pity. Since the 1970s when it started out as an empty brick shell with the world’s worst acoustics it’s been added to and augmented, sometimes for the better.

 It’s been host to dozens of productions, local, touring, musical, dance, operatic, dramatic. It was a home for ANU Drama when that had the necessary active, practical form that should be associated with tertiary drama studies. Halls of residence and student groups put on shows there. Local productions of musicals and plays turned up there. The National Playwrights Conference used it annually for a number of years. 

When Di Riddell and Val McKelvey worked at properly equipping it and looked after it it became a place you could go to for all kinds of theatrical technical and design assistance. At one stage I think I knew every inch of those catwalks in the main theatre and almost every piece of lighting equipment.
It and the smaller studio space had the virtues of roughness and adaptability and atmosphere to burn.

Meanwhile over at the Canberra Theatre another icon was passing through in the form of Petula Clark. The woman next to me was amazed to discover that she’d had a career before the 1960s. I was amazed in the second half to be reminded of a stage career that included Blood Brothers and Sunset Boulevard and pounded off after the show to renew acquaintance, not with the 1960s songs but with Goodbye Mr Chips, in which she was improbably (but charmingly) paired with Peter O’Toole in a musical update of this story. Finian’s Rainbow is next on the research list.

(I was also hoping to hear from an older film of hers about greyhound racing called The Gay Dog but no such luck.)

Sometimes such visitations are a bit like a visit to a ruined castle and there were dodgy moments but never in Clark’s earthily fey persona, which sustained a full programme with no supporting act. In the second half, when the stories started to blossom and she gave us a glimpse of her steely Norma Desmond, you could see the power that’s sustained a 70 year career.


Alanna Maclean