Wednesday, February 26, 2020

ROXANE


Written and directed by Mélanie Auffret
Coming to 2020 Alliance French Film Festival
12 March to 8 April
Palace Cinemas

Previewed by Len Power 19 February 2020

Writer/director Mélanie Auffret’s movie ‘Roxane’ tells the story of a Brittany chicken farmer, Raymond Leroux, who likes to read excerpts from Rostand’s play, ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’, to his flock with his gorgeous pet hen, Roxane, by his side.  When the all-controlling egg co-op cancels the contracts with the small chicken farmers of the district, Raymond enlists Roxane’s help with a scheme using social media to solve their predicament.

We’ve seen ‘little guy against the big guys’ stories before, of course, but it’s the quirky nature of this one that makes it a real winner.  Roxane in ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ was the hero’s love interest and so it’s no surprise that in the movie, the hero’s much-loved companion is a hen named Roxane.

The characters of this farming community are finely drawn and well-played by the cast members.  Their eccentricities are real and not caricatured.  Guillaume de Tonquédec as Raymond Leroux wins us over with the warmth and genuineness of his character.  His love for Roxane and his other chooks makes him irresistible.

There are excellent comedy performances from Léa Drucker as Raymond’s wife, Anne-Marie, Lionel Abelanski as a farming neighbour, Poupou, and Kate Duchêne as Wendy, an initially critical Englishwoman and literature professor who is won over to help with Raymond’s unusual scheme.

Mélanie Auffret directs the movie at a deliberate pace with under-stated performances, keeping it all on a believable level.  The slightly supernatural responses from the hens and especially, Roxane, are very funny.  There is some computer-generated imagery involving the birds but it’s mostly achieved through clever editing and sound.

The film is reminiscent of those great Ealing comedies of the 1950s such as ‘The Titfield Thunderbolt’ and ‘Passport To Pimlico’ – gentle satirical comedies involving recognizably human characters and situations.

‘Roxane’ is a delight from start to finish.  You’ll want to have a pet like Roxane by the time it’s over, too.

‘Roxane’ will be showing in the 2020 Alliance Francais French Film Festival at the Palace Cinemas from 12 March to 8 April.

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.

H.M.S. Pinafore





H.M.S. Pinafore.  Music by Arthur Sullivan. Libretto by W.S. Gilbert.  Hayes Theatre Co, presented by Siren Theatre Co, at The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, February 25-29, 2020.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
February 25

Director – Kate Gaul; Musical Director – Zara Stanton; Choreographer – Ash Bee; Production Designer – Melanie Liertz; Lighting Designer – Fausto Brusamolino; Sound Designer – Nate Edmondson

Cast: (alphabetical)
Katherine Allen, Gavin Brown, Thomas Campbell, Jermaine Chau, Tobias Cole, Sean Hall, Billie Palin, Bobbi-Jean Henning, Dominic Lui, Roey O’Keefe, Zachary Selmes, Zara Stanton
Buttercup - one-time wetnurse to Ralph and Capt Corcoran -
sells provisions to the sailors as the play begins.
Capt Corcoran at sixes and sevens at the beginning of Act Two
(the balls represent cannonballs in the original)
If you wonder that a bit of political satire from the UK in 1878 could be seriously funny in 2020, just begin from Captain Corcoran of Her Majesty’s Ship Pinafore pleading wonderfully mournfully with the Moon in Heaven

Fair moon, to thee I sing,
Bright regent of the heavens,
Say, why is everything
Either at sixes or at sevens?


In this summer of turmoil, of drought, fire, flooding rains, coal mining to reduce CO2 emissions, politically motivated sports-rorts grants and now coronavirus, all overseen by our equivalent of Sir Joseph Porter in the guise of Prime Minister Scott Morrison, I felt quite in tune with the Captain’s confusion.  As Sir Joseph sings



Sir Joseph Porter secluded in his cabin.
I am the monarch of the sea,
The ruler of the Queen’s Navee…
But when the breezes blow,
I generally go below,
And seek the seclusion that a cabin[et] grants…


From holiday in Hawaii to ‘cabinet-in-confidence’, our world is in more than sixes and sevens.  A mad-cap production of H.M.S. Pinafore was just what I needed.
Semaphore signalling:
"For he is an Englishman!"







Political correctness has caught me by the balls, so to speak: the non-profit left-wing communal basis of the Hayes Theatre Company has meant that I can find the names of the cast only in alphabetical order, without reference to who plays which parts.  But since, as Sir Joseph, Captain Corcoran and all the crew agree

Dick Deadeye calling for rebellion against the upper classes


A British tar is a soaring soul,
As free as a mountain bird,
His energetic fist should be ready to resist
A dictatorial word…
He never should bow down to a domineering frown,
Or the tang of a tyrant tongue.



So I can’t make pronouncements on the best performers (especially since half the time men are played by women, and the other half vice versa), but I can say the whole conception of this production is in the long tradition of apparently nonsensical satire which began probably long before Aristophanes’ Lysistrata (411 BCE, when the women very sensibly refused to have sex with their men while they still kept fighting The Peloponnesian War, 431–404 BCE), passing through Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (in an appropriately absurd showing by Lakespeare in Canberra this month), my favourite novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (by Laurence Sterne, in nine volumes 1759 – 1767), on to Monty Python’s Spamalot (to be seen here this week in a One Eyed Man Production), and Shaun Micallef’s weekly Mad As Hell (on the ABC, which at least one member of the Prime Minister – Scott Morrison’s – government wants to close down).


Phew!  I feel better already.  Thank you, Kate Gaul, Zara Stanton, Ash Bee, Nelanie Liertz, Fausto Brusamolino, Nate Edmondson and all the cast and crew of Hayes Theatre Co for bringing me back to my senses.  We all need a good dose of Gilbert & Sullivan every now and then – and this is a good one indeed.





 Ordinary Seaman Ralph Rackstraw declares his love for Josephine, Capt Corcoran's daughter






Sir Joseph, who expected to marry her, is horrified at Josephine and Ralph kissing.
Buttercup explains that she mixed the children up:
Ralph is really upper class, and so becomes Captain and marries Josephine.
Corcoran reverts to ordinary seaman and marries Buttercup.
Sir Joseph retires to his cabin with two young women.

A little further research has revealed the named roles.  In keeping with the company's collaborative nature, I list them here:

Buttercup - Thomas Campbell
Capt Corcoran - Tobias Cole
Sir Joseph Porter - Josef Ber
Josephine- Hannah Greenshields
Violin - Dominic Lui
Ralph Rackstraw - Billie Palin
Music Director - Zara Stanton
Dick Dead Eye - Sean Hall
Ensemble - Bobbie Jean Henning, Elora Ledferm, Gavin Brown, Zachary Selmes































HMS PINAFORE


Music by Arthur Sullivan, Libretto by W.S. Gilbert
Directed by Kate Gaul
Musical Director: Zara Stanton
Hayes Theatre Co. production
The Q Theatre Queanbeyan to 29 February

Reviewed by Len Power 25 February 2020


‘A re-imagined, gender-bending, hyper-theatrical and kinky take on this Gilbert & Sullivan classic’, says the advance publicity.  This show certainly delivers what it promises and takes audiences on a very entertaining voyage with some of the strangest sailors you’ll ever encounter!

HMS Pinafore was the fourth collaboration by the team of Arthur Sullivan (music) and W.S. Gilbert (libretto).  It opened in London in 1878 and went on to international fame.  It is frequently performed to this day.

A satire on the British class system, it tells the story of a captain’s daughter, Josephine, who is in love with a lower class sailor, Ralph Rackstraw.  Her father is determined she will marry Sir Joseph Porter, the First Lord of the Admiralty, and Ralph and Josephine plan to elope.  Complications ensue, of course, but all ends happily after a few contrived surprises.

The style of music and the archness of the libretto can make this work a bit hard to take for people unused these days to operetta.  Giving the show a wildly modern twist breathes new life into it and this expert Hayes Theatre production is sure to surprise and delight everyone.

Thomas Campbell as Buttercup!

Director, Kate Gaul, adds an anarchic sense of wackiness to the show with a gender-bending cast who know how to deliver funny lines with skill and timing.  The parade of dazzlingly strange costumes, weird makeup, lots of glitter and crazy action add another level of enjoyment.

What is especially notable with this production is the respect for the music.  It’s beautifully and clearly sung by the cast, all of whom can handle the operatic demands of the score.  The cast also play the musical instruments on stage as part of the action.  The musical arrangements for the smaller number of instruments give the show a pleasant and unique sound.  The playing of the overture by the cast was a delight, setting the tone for the rest of the show.

The ensemble cast of twelve perform the show with gusto, never missing a trick.  Amongst the group is Canberra’s Tobias Cole, who is very funny and in fine voice as Captain Corcoran and father of Josephine.

Tobias Cole as Captain Corcoran

It’s all played on a very attractive set designed by Melanie Liertz.  Ash Bee’s zany choreography adds immeasurably to the sense of fun.

This is a show that everyone will enjoy.  On the surface it’s just crazy, silly fun expertly done but the quality of the music and singing shows why this show is still being performed over a century later.

Photos: Harvey House Productions

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, February 23, 2020

HELL SHIP


Hell Ship.

 Written and performed by Michael Veitch . Co-writer and director Peter Houghton. Chester Creative. The Q Theatre. Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre. Friday February 21.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins



Many tales are told of the countless shipwrecks that occurred along the southern coastline of the continent and of the hundreds of lives lost at sea while searching for a better life in the new colonies. However, few would have known the story of the fateful Triconderoga, a sturdy  emigrant clipper that brought Highland emigrants across the seas to Australia in 1852.

What makes Michael Veitch’s one man show Hell Ship such an engaging, moving and powerful account of the journey is the personal resonance of his performance. On board the vessel was the ship’s young doctor, James William Henry Veitch, Michael’s great great grandfather, who, with the assistance of a Scottish nurse, Annie Morrison, desperately worked tirelessly and with scant regard for their own welfare to treat the outbreak of typhus, when it was discovered after passing the equator that one of the patients had the condition. What unfolds is a story of courage, compassion and the struggle to survive, as Veitch fills the stage with the drama of his forbear’s life.

A simple set on the Q Theatre stage captures the era and bleakness of Veitch’s tale. A young patient lies in a fever on a bed. He is being treated by a doctor, who is drawn into the drama of the voyage as typhus grips the travellers. On a crowded ship of 800 emigrants, the plague quickly spreads and by the time the Triconderoga limps into Port Phillip Bay, one hundred poor souls have been unceremoniously buried at sea. In the centre of the stage is a chair where James Veitch recounts the horrific experience as a surgeon’s mate and at the other side a large sailcloth projects images of the ocean as thunderclaps burst forth. We are instantly transported to a bygone era and the tragic decline of a mighty vessel and its human cargo.
Michael Veitch as James William Henry Veitch

Veitch is a fine actor, deftly changing role with voice and gesture while exuding a pacifying calm throughout the deadly drama. His pace is assured and measured with deliberately sensitive tempo.  His affinity with the story is plausible and heartfelt. What is less apparent is a surge of the shifting emotions. The performance appears deliberately low key, though not without impact. Perhaps his book would allow a greater sense of the building saga of what must have been a desperate plight. Maybe the drama would lend itself more effectively as a radio play, allowing the imagination to picture and conjure the on board horror. Alternatively, the largely forgotten tale warrants a  full length production, allowing individual stories to be developed and the romance between James and Annie to be developed until their eventual marriage.
This is of course speculation and appreciative audience members gathered at the close of the  performance to purchase Veitch’s book for a fuller account of the events upon the ill-fated clipper. Tonight’s performance was a theatrical teaser, adeptly performed by a fine actor and storyteller and an important acknowledgement of the suffering and heroism that so often took place upon the high seas during our nation’s nineteenth century maritime history.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Hell Ship - The Ticonderoga





Hell Ship – The Journey of the Ticonderoga   by Michael Veitch with co-writer Peter Houghton.  The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, February 21-22, 2020.

Presented by Chester Creative
Performer: Michael Veitch
Director: Peter Houghton
Lighting Designer: Tom Willis
Music: Thomas Veitch

Reviewed by Frank McKone
February 21

Hell Ship  is both entertaining and informative.  Researching one’s own family history and presenting something significant, as Michael Veitch has done, adds to our understanding of Australian history.  The story of Michael’s great-great-grandfather turns out to be highly relevant today.

In earlier times, too, there was a tradition of itinerant solo performers travelling the outback which still continues to entertain grey nomads in caravan parks around the country today: storytelling, poetry and bush songs are the usual fare in my experience.  But Hell Ship is a different kettle of fish.  Melbourne based Chester Creative has the touring game highly organised, offering a complete show – actor, set, lighting and sound all included – to venues with the right technical equipment and experienced staff, at a price. 

The two nights at The Q are well worth the money.  Veitch takes on the role of his great-great-grandfather at a point much later in his life than his arrival in Melbourne in 1852 and his marriage to Miss Morrison, the young woman who had helped him so well to cope with the ever-increasing deaths, from typhus, on board the Ticonderoga.  He is now alone, after her recent death, and needs to tell his story – to a young sick boy whose fever can now be treated with better knowledge and new medicines like Aspirin.

As the old ship’s surgeon recalls boarding the Ticonderoga in England and events through the 100 days of sail it took to reach Melbourne, he takes on the voices and characteristics of the people involved, from the government official organising the emigration, through the people with many accents from Scotland, Ireland and England whose poverty drives them to seek a new life far away, to Captain Boyle – an ethical, thoroughly authorative figure, respected by all – and to the pilot in Port Phillip Bay who has to order the ship to disembark at an isolated beach for a long quarantine period, during which many more people died.  A quarter of the ship’s 800 passengers and crew did not survive.

We never see the young boy, hidden in his iron-frame hospital bed, but we are as alternately excited and horrified as he, and as relieved as his fever cools, and James William Henry Veitch can safely leave him to his parents’ care.

And, though of course this could not have been in Michael Veitch’s mind when he first toured this show around Victoria in 2018, I could not help thinking of the cruise ship held in quarantine in Japan and the dreadful news of the spread of the new coronavirus around the world.  The past is not such a different country, after all.

In character as Ship's Surgeon
James William Henry Veitch

Michael Veitch







HELL SHIP


Performed by Michael Veitch
Co-written with Peter Houghton
Chester Creative
The Q Theatre, Queanbeyan to 22 February

Reviewed by Len Power 21 February 2020

A shocking story from the past, now mostly forgotten in the mists of time, the harrowing voyage of the emigrant vessel, Ticonderoga, comes alive onstage in Michael Veitch’s new one man show, ‘Hell Ship’.

In 1852, 800 passengers and crew left England for Melbourne on board the ship.  They were mostly Scottish families seeking a new life in Australia.  An outbreak of typhus on board killed a quarter of the passengers and crew.  Victims were buried at sea and it was said that schools of sharks followed the vessel.  On arrival in Australia, the ship was forbidden to dock in Melbourne and was forced to anchor near Portsea where the remaining passengers were either nursed back to health or allowed to die.

In the play, the now elderly surgeon, who was aboard the ship as a young man and survived the fateful voyage, reminisces about his experience on the ship many years later while caring for a very ill patient overnight in Melbourne.

On a simple but effective setting, the production creates a strong atmosphere of the period with hauntingly effective sound and light designs and clever use of projections.

Michael Veitch gives a fine solo performance as the elderly surgeon, drawing us deeply into the details of the horror voyage as death stalks the ship mercilessly.  He wisely keeps his performance low key and avoids histrionics.  The result is chillingly effective.

At the end of the play we are left with a projected period photograph of a man and a woman.  The man was Michael Veitch’s great-great-grandfather, James William Henry Veitch, the surgeon he portrays in the play.  It’s a powerful ending to an absorbing story of courage, human suffering and survival.

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.