You Know We Belong Together
Calendar, March 19, Performing arts, Theatre

Theatre: You Know We Belong Together

20 – 31 March @ State Theatre Centre of WA ·
Presented by Black Swan Theatre, Perth Festival & DADAA ·

You Know We Belong Together by Julia Hales with Finn O’Branagáin
and Clare Watson

Following the sold-out success of the 2018 world premiere of
You Know We Belong Together, we are thrilled to present an encore
season of this joyful celebration of community spirit.

You Know We Belong Together is a story of love; that force of nature
that strikes like lightning into our hearts. Family, friends and
lovers are all part of Julia Hales’ deeply personal account of her
experiences as a daughter, actor, dreamer and person with Down syndrome.
She brings with her the voices and aspirations of a community rarely
seen on stage in an uplifting performance with video, dance and song.

Book via www.bsstc.com.au

More info:
www.bsstc.com.au/plays/you-know-we-belong-together

 

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Three actors dressed in costume for The Gruffalo's Child
Children, News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

Joyful storytelling in Gruffalo sequel

Review: CDP Theatre Producers, The Gruffalo’s Child ·
State Theatre Centre of WA, Heath Ledger Theatre, November 21 ·
Review: Robert Housley ·

Toddler tears in less than five minutes and pierced chambers of the inner ear from a crying baby could not douse the enjoyment of The Gruffalo’s Child, a slick production from accomplished touring company CDP Theatre Producers.

Nor could it dampen the enthusiasm of its wonderfully cohesive cast, comprising Jade Paskins, Madison Hegarty and Skyler Ellis.

It was just another day at the office for children’s theatre targeted at the 3+ age group, as it was for accompanying parents and grandparents.

Oh, for the afternoon sleep.

For the most part the whipper-snappers were just as fixated on this stage adaptation of the immensely popular eponymous children’s book as they have been on the book itself (and as they were on The Gruffalo, of which this book and production are sequels). My neighbouring grandmother and her four-year-old grandson even brought the hard copy sequel along for a quick read before the show.

The real joy of this production is in its story telling, with whip-smart direction from Olivia Jacobs (with associate director Liesel Badorrek) moving the action along at a pace to keep the youngsters engaged.

The cast also fill their roles perfectly. Paskin’s Child beautifully captures the essence of the Gruffalo’s inquisitive daughter on her plight to find the Big Bad Mouse in the Deep Dark Wood.

Hegarty deftly plays narrative guide, wafting through the play with sound effects and movement, and joining in the occasional ensemble songs (music and lyrics by Jon Fiber and Andy Shaw; additional lyrics by Olivia Jacobs and Robin Price; choreographer Morag Cross; associate choreographer Luanna Priestman).

Ellis steals the show somewhat, in an actor’s dream role, playing multiple characters from the snoring Gruffalo to the salesman Fox. His radical change of voice for each character and the stunning companion costumes show both his considerable talent and that of designer Isla Shaw (puppet design by Yvonne Stone).

Like all of the best children’s theatre, the kids are encouraged to be part of the action in this production, and Wednesday’s audience spontaneously complied: clapping, singing and generally responding to invitations to get involved.

The simple set of truncated, leafless trees is seamlessly modified to accommodate the various scenes and disguise the numerous on-stage costume changes.

Lighting changes (design by James Whiteside) are kept to a minimum throughout so the kids can see all of the action all of the time while not making the Deep Dark Wood so deep or so dark.

Sleep, little one, sleep.

The Gruffalo’s Child is performed until December 2.

Junior review ·
Review by Isabel Greentree, age 9 ·

Many children may have read the story of The Gruffalo’s Child or seen the movie, but none are like this amazing stage performance. CDP Theatre Producers’ musical version of The Gruffalo’s Child, directed by Olivia Jacobs and performed by Madison Hegarty, Skyler Ellis and Jade Paskins, is a fun-filled hour of entertainment.

At the start, three children are playing in the snow and they begin to tell a scary story about the Gruffalo, but are interrupted by some loud snores. We meet the Gruffalo and his child when he is telling her a story about the Big Bad Mouse. He gives her the Stick Man to give her courage. When he is asleep, the Gruffalo’s Child tries to play hide and seek with the Stick Man but eventually gets bored and sets out on an adventure to find the Big Bad Mouse.

She meets several animals including the Snake (throwing a party), the Owl (giving flying lessons) and the Fox (trying to sell everything). Each meeting with an animal involves a song. In the end, the Gruffalo’s Child meets a mouse who tells her he is a friend of the Big Bad Mouse and manages to scare her away.

The set included spooky trees with branches shaped like long fingers. There was a wide yellow moon behind the trees, glowing gently. The costumes were clever and effective.

My favourite part was when the mouse nearly wakes up the Gruffalo with her squeaking. I also enjoyed the way the Gruffalo’s Child could never quite keep up with the dancing. There were lots of jokes and funny parts for adults and children alike. The very young children in the audience really enjoyed it too. I really liked the play and think it is suitable for all ages. Go and see it while you can!

The Gruffalo’s Child is performed until December 2.

 

Photo: Heidrun Lohr

 

 

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Swan Lake
Calendar, Dance, Performing arts, Perth Festival

Dance: Swan Lake – Loch na hEala

14 – 17 February @ Heath Ledger Theatre ·
Presented by Michael Keegan-Dolan | Teac Damsa ·

From the imagination of one of the world’s foremost dance
and theatre-makers Michael Keegan-Dolan (Fabulous Beast)
comes a beautiful, brilliant and utterly gripping deconstruction
of one of the world’s most famous ballets.

Strange and unsettling, full of bleak humour and wry characterisations,
this Swan Lake is definitely not the traditional classical ballet
version. Set in the Midlands of Ireland, where ancient mythology and
the modern world collide, stunning dancing and powerful imagery are
interwoven with inventive storytelling, song and live music. The story
is relayed like an Irish folk tale, set to a haunting and melodic
Nordic and Irish traditional music score played live by the Slow
Moving Clouds trio, but the themes and their inventive portrayal are
completely contemporary. Moments of darkness give way to scenes of
intense rapture in a must-see work of pure theatrical magic.

More info:
www.perthfestival.com.au/event/swan-lake

Pictured: Swan Lake, credit: Matt Grace

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The Great Tamer
Calendar, Performing arts, Perth Festival, Theatre

Theatre: The Great Tamer

8 – 12 February @ Heath Ledger Theatre ·
Presented by Dimitris Papaioannou ·

The meaning of life and the mystery of death are vividly
explored in a set of breathtakingly inventive live paintings
from Dimitris Papaioannou, a Greek artist internationally
recognised for directing the 2004 Olympic ceremonies.

Inspired by the words of Homer and the work of the Old Masters,
Papaioannou builds macabre still lifes, dreamlike images and
nightmarish creations with ten performers, his magical stagecraft
and the shifting floor.

The Great Tamer is a witty, stunning and surreal feast of visual
delights that takes shape around the idea that life is a journey
of discovery — an exploration for hidden treasure, an inner
archaeological excavation for meaning.

Papaioannou sees himself as a visual artist, a painter on the stage
who creates worlds of astounding beauty from the human body. In this
poetic, wordless allegory on the passage of time, the body is used
to create vignettes that are at once macabre and beautiful, brimming
with humour, horror, circus-like stunts and optical illusions.

More info:
https://www.perthfestival.com.au/event/the-great-tamer

Pictured: The Great Tamer, credit: Julian Mommert

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A Ghost in my Suitcase
Calendar, Performing arts, Perth Festival, Theatre

Theatre: A Ghost in My Suitcase

26 Feb – 3 Mar @ Heath Ledger Theatre ·
Presented by Barking Gecko Theatre ·

Travel from contemporary Australia to cosmopolitan Shanghai
and to the misty byways of rural China in the enchanting
family mystery A Ghost in My Suitcase.

Twelve-year-old Celeste arrives in China to scatter her
mother’s ashes, but in no time flat she’s thrust into a
world of magic and myth. Her grandmother has carried on
the family tradition of ghost catching and Celeste finds
she too has a knack for the hair-raising pursuit.

Barking Gecko Theatre’s visually spectacular stage version
of A Ghost in My Suitcase, adapted by Vanessa Bates from
Gabrielle Wang’s award-winning book of the same name, is
equal parts thrilling and heartwarming.

A Perth Festival Co-Commission

More info:
www.perthfestival.com.au/event/ghost-in-my-suitcase

Pictured: A Ghost in My Suitcase, credit: Daniel Grant

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Julius Caeser
News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

From dystopia to reality

Review: Bell Shakespeare, Julius Caesar ·
State Theatre Centre, August 8 ·
Review by Xan Ashbury ·

Shakespeare’s political thriller, Julius Caesar, has been asking questions about power, leadership, morality and the role of citizens since 1599. One of its key message seems to be that change can’t come from assassination because violence simply begets violence.

As a slid into my seat in the Heath Ledger Theatre this week, I realised the last show I’d seen in that venue was Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins (a musical about the dozen men and women who’ve killed or made attempts on the life of American presidents). Clearly, while Shakespeare’s plays sound a warning bell, society is often deaf to their pleas or staggeringly slow to change.

Shakespeare used the Roman setting as a way to provoke reflection on Elizabethan politics (without getting tortured or executed) and many productions of Julius Caesar since then have been staged through the lens of contemporary politics.

Under Orson Welles’s direction in 1937, Caesar and his followers donned the uniforms of fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. A production in New York last year dressed Caesar as Donald Trump, which sparked a right-wing backlash, including death threats against the cast. (One wonders whether the protestors bothered to actually see the play.)

Kenneth Ranson as Caesar (top) and Nick Simpson-Deeks as Cassius. Photo: Prudence Upton.

At its heart, Julius Caesar is about the power of rhetoric – the way language can be used to persuade or manipulate or incite violence. Given the ratcheting up of heated rhetoric and violence in our post-truth, digitally connected world, Bell Shakespeare has made a timely choice.

Directed by James Evans, the production is set in contemporary times in an unnamed country. The parallel with the rise and acceptance of populist politics is clear. In the second half of the play, after Caeser’s assassination and Mark Antony’s stunning funeral speech, the set and costumes (designed by Anna Tregloan) take on dark, post-apocalyptic look.

Bare mattresses rest under a blue tarpaulin. There’s an upturned chair and industrial machinery belching smoke. An orange light beamed out onto the audience casts grotesque shadows. The actors are in camouflage and military boots.

As with all dystopian texts, it’s designed to shock – to make us look critically at the trajectory we are on. It also holds up a mirror to the hell of refugee camps or white supremacists on the streets of Charlottesville, encouraging us to see that what we would have considered dystopian decades ago, has already become reality.

Sydney-based African American actor Kenneth Ransom plays Caesar in a smooth, understated manner. He has the aura of someone who believes his own PR. But tyrant or hero? Ransom keeps us guessing.

Nick Simpson-Deeks injects sass and humour into the role of Cassius, the disgruntled thinker who manipulates Brutus into leading the conspiracy to kill Caesar. He sees Caesar as a “vile thing”, a “colossus” that towers over other men despite being of little worth. Is it just tall poppy syndrome, I found myself asking, or is Cassius smart enough to see through Caesar’s spin?

In many ways, the play is Brutus’s story. Caesar’s friend and ally fears the Roman Republic will be destroyed if Caesar is crowned King. We follow his belief that Rome is falling under tyranny, his decision to assassinate Caesar and his resulting inner turmoil. Ivan Donato does well to portray this conflicted soul who loses everything.

The powerful scene in which his wife Portia (played superbly by Maryanne Fonceca) eloquently protests the limitations placed on her sex, and proves her loyalty, was beautiful to watch. Donato displayed a real affection and respect for Portia entirely lacking in the relationship between Caesar and his wife.

Caesar calls Calphurnia (Emily Havea) “barren”, in public view, and treats her as little more than an accessory. This is why it is thrilling when the ambitious Octavius (Caesar’s great nephew and heir) is also played by Havea. The doubling adds a subversive note, amplified by the casting of Sara Zwangobani in the role of Mark Antony, whose performance I found thoroughly captivating.

Likewise, Jemwel Danao plays both Metellus (who, in the first scene, warns Caesar will leave citizens in ‘servile fearfulness’) and Cinna the Poet, who is later killed by the mob.

The doubling emphasises Evans’s angle. “When leaders use language that provokes or normalises violence, a dark collective urge is unleashed,” he writes in the program notes. “And the artist is always the first target.”

That shocking and masterfully choreographed scene will stay with me forever. I’ll admit I felt ambivalent about the production before the interval. Its minimal set and casual dress projected a rehearsal room feel at times. But the remainder of the show was engaging and visually stunning.

‘Julius Caeser’ plays the State Theatre Centre of WA until August 11.

Pictured top: Nick Simpson-Deeks as Cassius. Photo: Prudence Upton.

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Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Shattering a myth

Review: Bangarra Dance Theatre, Dark Emu ·
Heath Ledger Theatre, 2 August ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

When it comes to contemporary dance, I prefer minimal program notes. I believe that the best dance works speak for themselves, that the language of the body can speak as effectively as written the word. Bangarra Dance Theatre’s Dark Emu, however, cracks my rule asunder.

Directed by Stephen Page and choreographed by Page, Daniel Riley, Yolande Brown and the Bangarra dancers, the work takes as its starting point Bruce Pascoe’s ground-breaking 2014 book, Dark Emu. Subtitled Black Seeds: agriculture of accident?, Pascoe’s Dark Emu is a detailed and fascinating account of the sophisticated and sustainable Aboriginal farming, fishing and building practices that were in place prior to European colonisation. In bringing these practices to light, Pascoe shatters what Page refers to as the “convenient myth” that, pre-colonisation, Australia’s Indigenous people lived as hunter-gatherers.

Never mind the extensive program notes (including Q&As with various members of the creative team that absolutely enrich one’s viewing of the show), for me, one of the great joys of watching the performance was making the connections between Dark Emu, the dance work, and Dark Emu, the text. While it may seem a big ask to suggest that anyone seeing Bangarra’s Dark Emu should also commit to reading the book, I would actually go further and say that I believe every Australian should read Pascoe’s Dark Emu.

That said, the dance work’s 14 short sections have a logic that is independent of the book. A melding of abstract dance with moments of narrative, Bangarra’s Dark Emu is richly layered in terms of movement, sound and design; references to the text form a kind of bonus layer, for those who have read it.

That abundance of detail is apparent from the opening section, “Dark Spirit of the Sky”. Jacob Nash’s set design, a vortex of luminous blue rings, creates the sense that we are peering into a kind of cosmic void. The dancers emerge head first; rolling, arching and rippling, as though guided by the haunting soundscape, that features vocals by dancer Beau Dean Riley Smith.

In the spirit of the book, the scenes that follow represent traditional cultural and agricultural practices, pierced by scenes that depict the destruction of those practices by European colonisers. A favourite section of mine, that evocatively uses movement to represent elements of the natural world, is “Ceremony of the Seed”. Against Nash’s backdrop, the texture of which brings to mind veined rocks or leaves, the five dancers representing ‘Black Seed’ split and shake, while seven ‘Kangaroo Grass’ dancers’ feathery movements match their shredded silky skirts. Lastly, ‘Grain Dust’ sees three dancers stretch and contract across the stage. This trio was performed with dynamism by Kaine Sultan-Babij, Beau Dean Riley Smith and tiny powerhouse Yolanda Lowatta.

Jennifer Irwin’s often intricate costumes act as a metaphor for the complexity of the rituals and practices that form the basis of Dark Emu. In “Bowls of Mourning” we see eight women garbed in white webbed dresses, some of whom wear white crocheted caps that bring to mind cocoons. In fact, Pascoe explains, there is a tradition in Central Australia whereby a woman wears a “mourning cap” after the death of her husband. Even without this information, though, this scene is haunting, with the ethereal vocals of Yolande Brown woven into the score. Some of the women huddle on a low platform of wooden logs, others break away in a whirling motion that, ultimately, draws them back to the group. A rich, sweet smell fills the air, almost like incense. Nash’s veined back drop is now lit a deep and calm blue.

It’s a shock, then, when the music abruptly becomes choppy, and the male dancers burst in, leaping and rolling. Quickly they deconstruct the platform, utilising the logs to fence in the women. We don’t need the voiceover to confirm that these are the European explorers, wreaking havoc on traditional life.

Throughout the work, Steve Francis’s evocative score brings together “found” sounds with instrumentals, vocals and spoken word. In amongst the likes of cello, percussion and synth, we hear the flapping of wings, the drum roll of a downpour, the howl of the wind, the humming of flies, the crackle of a storm. Impressively, the vocals are mostly provided by the multi-talented dancers.

And those dancers. They have a sinewy quality, a stealth and lightness to their movement, that makes them incredible to watch. Whether slipping and sliding through white ochre powder, rolling and weaving amongst stone boulders, or springing and twisting in amongst the flames of a fire, they move with an energy that is deft but wild.

Bangarra Dance Theatre’s Dark Emu is a rich tapestry of dance, sound and design that both celebrates the complex, practical and beautiful culture of Aboriginal people, and reminds us of the role of European settlers in its destruction.

Bangarra Dance Theatre’s sold-out Perth season finishes August 5.

Photo: Daniel Boud.

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summer of the 17th doll
News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

Black Swan’s Doll is a revelation

Review: Black Swan State Theatre Company, Summer of the Seventeenth Doll  ·
Heath Ledger Theatre, May 9 ·
Review by Xan Ashbury ·

It’s not often a play’s set makes me analyse my obsession with mid-century furniture. But such is the case with Black Swan State Theatre Company’s stunning production of The Doll (as it is affectionately known). From the standard lamp and floral velour sofa, to the vinyl pouffe and the laminex table, the set closely resembles my home’s interior. It caused me to ponder why I have compulsively acquired items from an era steeped in such conservative values.

Ah, nostalgia; that trap of rosy retrospection.

Ray Lawler’s classic play Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, set in 1953 and first performed in ‘55, speaks of the unbearable nostalgia and the confusion of a group of people when their beloved private world disintegrates under the stress of time and shifting circumstances. It examines what happens when people cling to the past out of fear of an uncertain future.

It is also a tragedy of the inarticulate, who feel more than they can express. Emotional honesty or nuanced vocabulary – like job security or savings – is a distant luxury.

Like generations of Australians, I read The Doll at school. But in my Year 11 drama room in 1989, its outdated colloquial language just seemed cringeworthy. (“Pigs I will!”, “Real ear-basher, he is.”) Its themes were utterly lost on us. Amateur productions I’ve seen were tragically shouty.

But finally, (finally!) I get it. I appreciate the brilliance of Lawler’s text, thanks to Adam Mitchell’s sensitive direction, the luminous design by Bruce McKinven and Trent Suidgeest, and the quality of the acting.

summer of the seventeenth doll
Mackenzie Dunn exudes a warm charm as Bubba, pictured with Kelton Pell as Roo (left) and Jacob Allan as Barney (right). Photo: Philip Gostelow.

Amy Mathews is superb as the sunny (but ultimately distraught) thirty-something barmaid Olive, who lives with her ageing, acerbic mother Emma (Vivienne Garrett) in a Victorian terrace in Carlton. Olive swoons adoringly, as she awaits the arrival of Roo and his mate Barney, down from cane cutting in Queensland for the five-month lay-off season. It’s been rinse-repeat for the past sixteen summers: Roo teaming up with Olive and Barney with Nancy. But with Nancy now married and sceptical Pearl invited as a possible replacement, it’s time to enter the spin cycle.

Kelton Pell is convincing as the proud, hot-headed Roo, who has returned to Melbourne stripped of his status, money and dignity. Machismo renders him all but mute (“Whatever. Don’t much care.”) until he vents with his fists.

Jacob Allan is outstanding in the role of Barney, a lively, un-reconstructed “ladies man” whose lack of self-awareness provides much of the play’s humour.

Alison van Reeken does well to portray the highly-strung widow Pearl, whose fresh perspective on the men’s behaviour, and the group’s dynamic, accelerates inevitable change.

Michael Cameron swaggers as Roo’s rival, the young upstart Johnnie Dowd. Mackenzie Dunn exudes a warm charm as Bubba, whose attraction to Johnnie shocks the other characters into confronting some home truths.

summer of the seventeenth doll
Machismo renders Roo all but mute until he vents with his fists. L-R: Jacob Allan as Barney and Kelton Pell as Roo. Photo: Philip Gostelow.

Of course, staging (and viewing) The Doll now is more than an act of nostalgia. The rise of the fly-in, fly-out lifestyle, and the challenge that poses for couples and families, adds contemporary resonance. So too does society’s growing critique of toxic masculinity.

Lawler’s characters are full of ambiguity and contradiction, though, and he resists moralising. Take Roo’s act of continuing to give Olive kewpie dolls: is it sweet, or infantilising – like some sugar (cane) daddy?

Olive’s rejection of marriage reminds me somewhat of Nora in Ibsen’s Doll House. When Nora says she cannot be a good wife and mother without learning to be more than a plaything, her husband is baffled because it contradicts all he has been taught about women. Likewise, Roo is at a loss to understand why Olive would not want to be his wife.

Does happiness elude her because she has been treated as a plaything and come to expect no better, or does she genuinely want to live beyond the trappings of marriage? Surely some women still grapple with the same question.

My only connection to Queensland or the world of cane-cutting has been through my long-standing love of the Go-Betweens’ song “Cattle and Cane”. Grant McLennan’s lyrics drip with affection and longing; nostalgia and melancholy. “From time to time the waste, memory wastes (memory wastes).”

I can’t be sure what McLennan means by those lines, though I’ve sung them with conviction countless times. But given that he wrote the song on Nick Cave’s guitar in London while feeling homesick for rural Queensland…

Perhaps there’s something in that for Olive and Roo and Barney and all of us. Memory lies. Memory wastes. The past was not necessarily a better place.

Summer of the Seventeenth Doll plays the Heath Ledger Theatre at the State Theatre Centre until May 20.

Top: Sensitive design and quality acting: Amy Mathews as Olive and Alison van Reeken as Pearl. Photo: Photo: Philip Gostelow.

 

 

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Frank Enstein
April 18, Calendar

Dance: Frank Enstein

11 – 15 April @ State Theatre Centre of WA , Heath Ledger Theatre ·
Presented by Co3 Australia ·

School Matinees: Thu 12 and Fri 13 April
Evening Performances: Wed 11 – Sat 14 April, 7.30pm and Sun 15 April, 5pm

Made by The Farm in collaboration with Co3 Australia

Frank could be a genius. Just one more ‘i’ and he’d be an Einstein!

Frank’s a lonely guy who wants to make his imaginary friends real. Harnessing electricity from a storm he creates his world from nothing but his imagination and the garbage in his lab. Battling a physical impairment, Frank creates monsters to fulfill his desire to be normal and to be accepted by others. Can he control what he creates? And who is the real monster anyway? Frank Enstein is a retelling of the classic tale for children and adults – magical dance-theatre illuminating a path to self-acceptance.

The Farm’s wicked sense of humour together with the extreme physicality of Co3 Australia’s dancers combines magic and dance to create a show for the child in all of us.

Suitable for all ages: recommended Ages 8+ (when accompanied by an adult)

Duration: 60 minutes (no interval)

More info: https://co3.org.au/frank-enstein-2018/
Email: info@co3.org.au

Top: The monsters Frank brings to life. Photo: Stefan Gosatti.

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William Rees as Frank with Co3 Australia dancer Andrew Searle
Children, Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

A winning reinvention

Review: Frank Enstein, The Farm with Co3 Australia ·
State Theatre Centre of WA, 12 February ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

When I first heard that Co3 Australia was remounting Frank Enstein, I was sceptical. A retelling of Mary Shelley’s gothic classic by Gold Coast-based duo The Farm, the work made its premiere in WA just a year ago and it felt too soon to watch it again.

My fears, however, were unfounded. Watching Frank Enstein “2.0” (to borrow Co3 executive director Richard Longbottom’s nickname for the show) it was apparent that this is, indeed, a new version of the work rather than a simple reproduction.

The bones of the story are the same as last time. Frank’s a lonely inventor with a physical impairment who creates monsters in an effort to find friends. It’s a tale about acceptance, of both others and ourselves. Frank’s workshop, with its electric generator, crate of mannequin parts, fluorescent signs and AstroTurf surrounds, is also familiar.

So far, so recognisable, but there’s one key difference this year. Two of the five characters, Frank and his romantic interest Liz, are played by teenagers rather than adults. While the recast was made for practical rather than creative reasons (lack of availability of the original Frank, Daniel Monks), the decision to replace them with young performers has worked a charm.

As in the first rendition, both Frank and Liz are a sweet mix of awkwardness, enthusiasm and eccentricity. Casting them as teenagers gives a context for their idiosyncrasies that makes them more relatable.

William Rees as Frank with Co3 Australia guest artist Luci Young
William Rees as Frank with Co3 Australia guest artist Luci Young. Photo: Stefan Gosatti.

Guest artists William Rees (Frank), 16, and Luci Young (Liz), 15,  have put their own spin on their respective characters. Both gave highly engaging performances on opening night, at once comical and sensitive.

As Frank, Rees had the audience giggling as he ricocheted between triumph and terror, interacting with his newly enlivened creatures. Like Monks, Rees has a physical disability, in his case restricting the use of his left arm. As in the first version of Frank Enstein, the difference between Frank’s arms is acknowledged in a moment that is deft and poignant, without being overly sentimental.

Young’s Liz was full of delightful bravura, whether tossing her head wildly to the instructions of an “advanced at-home dance class” issuing from her old-school ghetto blaster or losing herself in a spine rippling solo, performed with an exuberance and abandonment beyond her years.

As well as cast changes, there have been adjustments to both the narrative and choreography, making this version of Frank Enstein that little bit darker and kookier. The “vacuum cleaner scene” was, if anything, even funnier on second viewing, as various body parts fell victim to the power of suction. I don’t seem to recall a disco scene in last year’s version, but it shone golden this time.

Once again, guest artist Andrew Searle and Co3 Australia’s Zachary Lopez and Talitha Maslin were sensational as the three monsters. Wonderfully funny in their interactions with one another and with Rees and Young, it was in their solos that we saw their incredible physicality as movers. Searle moved through his mass of spirals with his trademark grace. Lopez both amused and amazed as a series of crazed vibrations overtook his body. And Maslin appeared inhuman, her limbs contorting at seemingly impossible angles.

Finally, mention must be made of the sound design, with its evocative layers of melody and machinery, created by James Brown with Laurie Sinagra.

Kudos to the creators of this work, The Farm’s Gavin Webber and Grayson Millwood, as well its cast – Frank Enstein 2.0 won me over.

Frank Enstein plays until 15 April and is suitable for ages 8 to adults.

Read Seesaw’s interview with Co3 Australia’s artistic director Raewyn Hill to find out more about Frank Enstein.

Pictured top: William Rees as Frank with Co3 Australia dancer Andrew Searle. Photo: Stefan Gosatti.

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