Behind the Wheel

30 October 2018

Review: Black Swan State Theatre Company, Xenides ·
Studio Underground, 27 October ·
Review by David Zampatti ·

What does a biodrama need? An interesting subject. Revealing, fresh insights into the subject and their milieu. A dramatically satisfying narrative, or  a non-narrative alternative that leads us to a deeper understanding of the subject.

That’s the challenge for Clare Watson and her team of collaborators, creatives, cast and musicians in Xenides.

They’ve delivered a complex piece that is more about the theatre than the life it portrays; more about actors than the role they play.

It’s entertaining, clever and tightly staged. It’s also emotionless and shallow.

The problem is revealed by a quick dive into the reviewer’s little helper, Wikipedia.

For all her longevity as a television personality (she holds all sorts of records for her 18-year stand as the letter-spinner on Grundy’s afternoon hit Wheel of Fortune), the dislocations of her childhood and the lugubrious circumstances of her early death at 54, there’s really not much to tell about Adriana Xenides.

Neither is there any strong evidence (as far as I can tell anyway) of her standing for anything much, or, really, doing anything much else. And neither is there anything much in the text of Xenides that tells us things we wouldn’t know about her from that scant Wikipedia entry.

I mean her no disrespect. What she did so successfully for so long requires a genuine talent and determination, but I fail to see what it brings to the stage.

Four women dressed up as Adriana Xenides from Wheel of Fortune
Harriet Marshall, Laila Bano Rind, Katherine Tonkin and Adriane Daff play themselves playing Xenides… all striking the poses that come with the territory. Photo: Dana Weeks.

What Xenides does have, though, is a meta-theatrical romp that dissects what we are seeing and how we are going to see it. Four actors – Adriane Daff, Harriet Marshall, Laila Bano Rind and Katherine Tonkin – play themselves playing Xenides, or at least putting their case to play her, all dressed in variations of Adriana’s trademark red number, all striking the poses that come with the territory. It’s catty and sweet, often very funny and sometimes, though not often enough, sad.

Tonkin is an established stage and television star, and her CV, which she carries with her as a talisman, drives her self-characterisation. Bano Rind is an indigenous actor, also of Persian descent, who underlines the universality of the story of the Greek/Spanish Xenides, while Marshall is an opera singer – something Adriana was definitely not – who makes her stage debut here (and sings a lusty Vissi d’arte from Tosca, because that’s what she does).

Adriane Daff is a firecracker lit and thrown onto every stage she inhabits. She gives a curious, fidgety performance, combative and intensely self-aware, and is just about worth the price of the ticket on her own.

What seals the deal, though, is a half-dozen ripping songs by Xani Kolac, which she plays and sings expertly with bassist Djuna Lee and drummer Holly Norman and the cast. There are some wonderful, immediately accessible tunes here, and they lift the performances, which at times lacked a little vim.

The show is wittily choreographed (by Laura Boynes), well dressed (by set designer Zoe Atkinson and costume designer Sarah Duyvestyn) and wrangled (by Watson), but ultimately it couldn’t move or reveal enough to do what it needed to do.

A footnote: I despise the backslapping post-show speeches that infect opening nights these days. Nothing is more certain to subsume the experience of theatre to its corporate and social functions. Having said that, “Baby” John Burgess’s lovely remembrance of the woman he worked with on Wheel of Fortune for a dozen years, and his endorsement of the show named after her, was quiet (courtesy of incredible microphone technique learned over a half century behind them), sincere and deeply touching.

Xenides plays the Studio Underground at the State Theatre Centre of WA until November 11.

Photo: Katherine Tonkin, Harriet Marshall, Adriane Daff and Laila Bano Rind. Photo: Dana Weeks.

Like what you're reading? Support Seesaw.

Author —
David Zampatti

David Zampatti has been a student politician, a band manager, the Freo Dockers’ events guy, a bar owner in California, The West Australian’s theatre critic and lots of other crazy stuff. He goes to every show he’s reviewing with the confident expectation it will be the best thing he’s ever seen.

Past Articles

  • Tributes to musical idols light up stage

    A cabaret veteran and opera performer bring very different interpretations of the greats of classical, jazz and pop in the second week of the Perth International Cabaret Festival, writes David Zampatti

  • Life is a cabaret festival

    From an exquisite performance by Lior to mashed up anthems of gender equality, the opening weekend of the Perth International Cabaret Festival provides plenty of reasons to come hear the music play, writes David Zampatti.

Read Next

  • Kiki Saito and Matthew Lehmann in Nils Christe's Before Nightfall. Photo by Bradbury Photography copy Two West Australian ballet dancers on stage - a woman is perched on one pointe, her other leg extended upwards in a split. She arches back, supported by a male dancer. Hitting high notes at 70

    Hitting high notes at 70

    25 June 2022

    Traversing a range of human emotion, West Australian Ballet’s latest triple bill is an evening of beautifully performed contemporary dance, reports Kim Balfour.

    Reading time • 6 minutesDance
  • Cabaret festival. A singer wearing a fur hat is on stage with a pianist, guitarist and drummer. We can see the dress circle seats of the theatre in the background lit in a greenish light. Tributes to musical idols light up stage

    Tributes to musical idols light up stage

    23 June 2022

    A cabaret veteran and opera performer bring very different interpretations of the greats of classical, jazz and pop in the second week of the Perth International Cabaret Festival, writes David Zampatti

    Reading time • 6 minutesCabaret
  • A semi circle of 8 singers, with one standing in the centre, facing an audience. They are in a large hall and there are cnadles, chairs and pot plants decorating the floor around them. Vanguards bring poetry to vocal music

    Vanguards bring poetry to vocal music

    20 June 2022

    Armchair poets become legends in their own lunchtimes in Vanguard Consort’s imaginative Saturday Night Poetry, writes Claire Coleman.

    Reading time • 5 minutesMusic

Cleaver Street Studio

Cleaver Street Studio

Cleaver Street Studio