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Dance, News, Perth Festival, Reviews

Stark, dark and utterly compelling

Perth Festival review: Michael Keegan-Dolan and Teac Damsa, Swan Lake/Loch na hEala ·
Heath Ledger Theatre, 14 February ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

Anyone who saw Michael Keegan-Dolan’s dance theatre work Giselle at Perth Festival, back in 2009, will know that the Irish choreographer has the capacity to show us that the dark and often gruesome side of 19th century Gothic fairy-tale narratives lies just below the surface of contemporary life.

So it’s no surprise that his Swan Lake/Loch na hEala, created for his Ireland-based dance theatre company Teac Damsa, is laced with loneliness and grief, punctuated by violence. Instead of a castle we see an Irish housing estate. In place of a prince we have Jimmy O’Reilly (Alex Leonhartsberger), a 36-year old man emotionally paralysed by unemployment and the loss of his father.

The evil sorcerer is The Holy Man (Mikel Murfi); the story is his confession. In a flash-back scene we learn that he has sexually abused Finola (Rachel Poirer), a teenaged girl in his parish. When he realises that the crime has been witnessed by her three sisters he silences them with a curse that transforms all four girls into swans.

Years later, when Jimmy seeks solace at the local lake,  he is transfixed by the swan-woman Finola. And so the story unfolds but this is no escapist Romantic tragedy. Instead it’s a tale of the insidious nature of depression, of prejudice, and of corrupt power.

It would feel unrelentingly dark, but Keegan-Dolan tells this modern-day fable with a light touch. For starters, there’s a liberal sprinkling of humour. Then there’s the sparkling live music, composed by Dublin-based band Slow Moving Clouds and performed with zest by Aki (nyckelharpa, vocals), Mary Barnecutt (cello, vocals) and Danny Diamond (fiddle). The folk resonances of the tumbling score, with its yearning wordless calls and minor key melodies, are soothing as the story takes increasingly disturbing turns.

And, of course, there’s the dance, which interweaves the spoken narrative with curlicuing limbs and spiralling paths. It’s beautifully executed by the cast. As The First, Second and Third Watchers, Saku Koistinen, Zen Jefferson and Erik Nevin are lithe and nimble, while the swan sisters Kim Ceysens, Anna Kaszuba and Carys Staton, and Poirer are at once weighted and expansive, their arms extending with an airiness that belies their firmly grounded steps. With their broad-spanned swan wings (designed by Hyemi Shin) they are almost angelic.

Poirer and Leonhartsberger’s two duets are highlights, the first flinching and stuttering; the second softer and more supple, a moment of comfort before parting. Both dancers portray their vulnerable, damaged characters with poignancy and sensitivity.

As The Holy Man (and various other minor roles) Mikel Murfi is outstanding. This is no fantasy villain; chilling yet comical, his Holy Man is both repellent and believable. And Murfi is versatile; so swiftly and deftly does he switch between two conversing characters that we almost see two men on stage.

It’s a pleasure to see Australia’s own Elizabeth Cameron Dalman playing Jimmy’s widowed mother Nancy. At 84, this doyenne of contemporary dance inhabits the role with stoic grace. Her wonderfully expressive face speaks volumes and it’s a privilege to see her dance in the final scene, albeit briefly.

Though the feather-filled finale feels disconnected from the story’s tragic conclusion, it also allows viewers time to gather their thoughts and spirits. By curtain call on opening night, the audience was, justly, ecstatic.

Stark, dark and disturbing, Michael Keegan-Dolan’s Swan Lake is utterly compelling.

Swan Lake/Loch na hEala plays the State Theatre Centre of WA until February 17.

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Circus, Fringe World, News, Reviews

Tackling plastic through acrobatics

Kinetica, 450 Years ·
Big Top at The Woodside Pleasure Garden, 13 February ·
Review by Robert Housley ·

Some scary numbers are linked to the incredible amount of time it takes for plastic to break down in the environment.

Perth circus school Kinetica has chosen 450 Years for the title of its 2019 Fringe World show to emphasise the point. It is an estimation of the time it takes for a plastic cup, or bottle (depending on your source), to decompose.

It’s a sobering figure, as is the disturbing claim in the show blurb that “two million plastic bags are used worldwide every minute”.

In 450 Years, Kinetica “imagines a future world where plastic pollution has taken over and rules our everyday existence”.

Consequently, myriad forms of plastic appear throughout the work,  as props, costumes, hair ties, belts and environmental debris. The 10-member troupe – two males and eight females – navigate the challenges of working with the material, which is either integral to, or in the midst of, its 10-plus routines.

Playfulness and humour are also integrated into several of the acts, starting with an acrobatic routine in which plastic bags are juggled while an animated male performer dances to the first of many upbeat tunes.

The hula hoop features in another routine, with the apparatus utilised in perpetual motion whilst a female performer creatively manoeuvres it in and out of all four limbs. Her single foot work while upside-down is gravity-defying. The entire troupe emerges from backstage at the conclusion of her solo, to form a conga line with hula hoops that culminates in a visually stunning human pyramid.

A “bottle-crushing” contortionist shows us how to reduce the size of plastic bottles using numerous body parts while balancing atop a 1.5m wooden table… not a level of versatility required when recycling them at home.

The larger part of the show is dedicated to aerial acts, though a few too many for the overall balance of the 50-minute work. Different airborne apparatus – a corner-hung large cube, silks, a lyra (suspended hoop), straps and a net – ensure, however, that there is sufficient aerial variety to maintain audience attention.

Striking sculptured poses in mid-air is no mean feat, and the standard of these routines is uniformly high.

While environmental awareness is an admirable theme – and there are moments when it is manifest in this work – realising it with circus skills is a challenge that isn’t quite met.

Nonetheless, 450 Years is an accomplished effort.

450 years shows at the Big Top until February 17.

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Features, Lectures and Talks, Literature, News, Perth Festival

A writers festival for you

Running from 18-24 February, Perth Festival Writers Week is a feast for the mind, combining an immersive weekend of panel sessions at the University Club at UWA as well as a number of satellite events around Perth. This year marks William Yeoman’s second as Writers Week Curator and, with one successful event already under his belt, he’s excited for what he promises will be an even better program this February. Claire Trolio spoke to Yeoman to find out more.

William Yeoman
William Yeoman

William Yeoman works an eight day week.

Yes, you read that right.  Maintaining his full time job as Books Editor and Arts Writer at The West Australian, he also works two days a week in the Perth Festival offices and steals time early in the morning or in the evenings to make up an extra day. Fortunately, there is some overlap between his jobs, most notably the copious amount of reading required!

To get through those mountains of literature, Yeoman has perfected the art of skim reading. When he’s reading for work and it’s not a text he’d otherwise choose, he is able to familiarise himself with a book in about one hour.

But reading for enjoyment? That’s another story he says. I wonder if there is any time left in his schedule for a leisurely read? “I make time,” he stresses. “If you love the language [of a writer] you need to slow down.” At the moment, Yeoman is savouring Fiona Wright’s collection of essays “The World Was Whole”, ahead of her appearance in two sessions at Writers Week.

Curating Perth Festival Writers Week is a mammoth task and Yeoman doesn’t pretend otherwise. “Let’s be clear, this kind of writers festival is a major international festival. But once you get your head around all that, it’s fine,” he chuckles. To approach the task he starts with a rough idea of the themes he wants to explore and the kinds of authors he wants to invite. But, he stresses, “it’s also about being flexible enough to change your mind and being ready to accept those authors who are offered up to you, sometimes quite late in the piece.”

Jane Caro. Photo: David Hahn.

Jane Caro is one example. The writer and social commentator’s new book Accidental Feminists, is coming out this month and Yeoman jumped at the chance to add her name to the bill. Not only does this make for an up-to-date, relevant program, but Caro is also a big name. “Someone like that is going to raise the profile of the festival,” explains Yeoman.

Entertaining the audience is also high on Yeoman’s list of priorities. “I am big on the ideas of performance and theatre,” he reflects. “Of course, solid, conceptual ideas might be at the heart of that, but hopefully they are presented in an engaging way. Part of creating that experience is related to the kind of guests you invite,” he continues, naming Benjamin Law and Mikey Robins as two 2019 Writers Week guests whose brilliant presentation styles were a big drawcard when planning the program.

As Writers Week Curator, Yeoman considers his responsibility to be “first and foremost, to the reader”. It’s the same way he approaches journalism. This means he must compromise his personal interests and, sometimes his political opinions. “It’s important to have dissenting voices [within a festival], not if they are extreme, but where they are reasonable,” he remarks.

There’s also room in the festival to have some fun, and one of the program highlights for Yeoman himself is Freo Groove, a celebration of the musical history of Fremantle. “To have writers and musicians Claire Moodie and Bill Lawrie together with Lucky Oceans and some of the musicians who feature in their book, in a free, outdoor marquee sundowner – what’s not to like?”

A keen musician himself, he admits to always seeking out musical connections, and the program reflects this. As well as Freo Groove, Yeoman has programmed author and travel editor Stephen Scourfield in conversation with Margaret River based guitar maker Scott Wise (There Are Strings Attached); Jazz High Tea, combining a conversation about The Great Gatsby with live music from WA Youth Jazz Orchestra; and a performance of songs of love and desire in German and English preceding a discussion about singing in translation (Lust in Translation).

The intersection between literature and other disciplines is a feature of Yeoman’s programming. Film, architecture, photography and fashion, as well as music, are represented in this year’s program. Where do you draw the line when it comes to crossing disciplines at a writers festival? “You don’t!” Yeoman responds emphatically. “You find a connection somewhere. If someone has written a book on a topic, well, it’s as easy as that.”

The architectural legacy of Kerry Hill will be discussed by Kerry Hill Architects’ Patrick Kosky and architect Geoffrey London alongside a tour of Hill’s City of Perth Library (Remembering Kerry Hill). And one of Australia’s most famous and respected film critics, David Stratton, will pop by. He’ll discuss hidden cinematic gems (101 Marvellous Movies You May Have Missed) before joining Jane Lydon, Joanna Sassoon and George Kouvaros to consider how moving and still images shape our memories and future (Migration, Memory & Movies).

Benjamin Law

Yeoman is also excited to present madison moore, an American cultural critic, DJ and Assistant Professor of Queer Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. Moore’s first book, Fabulous: The Rise of the Beautiful Eccentric, explores how eccentric style, fashion and creativity is political, particularly in queer culture and non-white cultures. As well as appearing alongside Benjamin Law and Ursula Martinez in panel session A Queer World, moore will present a late-night performance lecture at the State Theatre Centre of WA, exploring the concept of clubs as a safe space for experimentation and self-expression (Dance Mania: A Manifesto for Queer Nightlife).

Evidently, moore’s work ties in closely to what Yeoman has declared to be the theme of Writers Week 2019: Our Imagined Selves. “In fact,” declares Yeoman, “this year’s theme was partly inspired by madison moore.” As beautifully diverse as Yeoman’s 2019 Writers Week program is, this concept ties it together. Stories – both fiction and non-fiction – are the essence of who we are. So as you journey through Perth Festival Writers Week, consider yourself, your own story and how it fits with those around you. Because as much as the festival is about the writers, it’s also about you.

Perth Festival Writers Week runs from 18-24 February 2019. 

Pictured top is madison moore.

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Fringe World, News, Physical theatre, Reviews

Minimalist show, maximum charm

Fringe World review: Kallo Collective, Only Bones v1.0 ·
The Blue Room Theatre as part of Summer Nights, 12 February ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

Before I begin writing about Only Bones v1.0, I have some advice. Go and book your ticket now. I’m in two minds about whether you should then read this review, or wait until after you’ve seen the show. Maybe wait until after you’ve seen the show.

Because a great deal of the pleasure of this witty and eccentric show comes from its surprises.

Described by its makers – New Zealand’s Thom Monckton and Gemma Tweedie and Finland’s Kallo Collective – as “minimalist micro-physical theatre”, Only Bones 1.0 is understated. The performance begins in near darkness. All that is visible is a pair of incredibly articulate hands (belonging to solo performer Monckton) that swim through a small circle of submarine blue light; rippling and twitching, inflating and collapsing. The soundscape, provided by onstage-but-barely-visible technician Tweedie, is ambient, soothing.

So far, so chill… but things are about to change for the funnier.

For the next 40 odd minutes, the tracksuit-clad Monckton uses his wonderfully mobile body, to entertain and delight. Initially, we see only his limbs. A sock-masked hand is an interloper between a pair of feet. Two hands have a melodramatic nail polished-based duel.

Gradually more of Monkton’s body is revealed but there’s trouble with the head – it just won’t stay put on top of his neck. The antics that follow have the audience gasping with laughter and disbelief in equal measure. Monkton’s body has a rubber-like capacity to change shape, while his mobile face appears to be made of plasticine that can be pulled into any expression.

It’s all accompanied by a mix of cleverly-timed sound effects from Tweedie as well as various wordless squeaks, grunts and mutterings from Monkton himself. Without giving too much away, a game of mix-the-animal-sounds is a highlight of the show.

The intimacy provided by the Blue Room Theatre’s performance space is just right for this small-scale show.

My own non-plasticine face ached from grinning. Only Bones v1.0 is an absolute treat.

Only Bones v1.o plays the Blue Room Theatre until February 16.

Pictured top: Thom Monckton’s mobile face appears to be made of plasticine that can be pulled into any expression. Photo: Dmitrijus Matvejevas.

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Dance, News, Perth Festival, Reviews

Some hits, some misses

West Australian Ballet, ‘In-Synch: Ballet at the Quarry’ ·
West Australian Ballet, Friday 8 February ·
Review by Amy Wiseman ·

West Australian Ballet’s annual outdoor season sees ballet fans flock to Floreat’s magnificent Quarry Amphitheatre for a balmy summer evening of dance. This year’s programme, “In-Synch: Ballet at the Quarry”, features four short contemporary ballet works, including a unique collaboration with WA’s flagship contemporary dance company, Co3 Australia. Arriving early at the venue allows for the added luxury of a shared picnic in the setting sun and the chance to observe the artists warm up and prepare for the performance.

Opening the evening, Finnish choreographer Johanna Nuutinen’s X-It uses both live performance and a projected film, which was shot in the iconic Fremantle Prison. Unsettling in theme, the work explores our psychological reaction to constant surveillance.

An eerie, suspenseful solo, aided by Thomas Norvio’s sparse sound design, unfolds both on and off the screen, performed with strength and precision on opening night by Kymberleigh Cowley. Though the concept is not fully explored and ideas feel fractured, the piece is technically impressive, as the cast of six weave and arc through physically demanding duets.

Itzik Galili’s The Sofa follows a short interval. This comical romp, originally performed by the company in 2014, delighted the opening night crowd. Though thematically a little dated on the issue of sexuality and dare I say, consent, on the whole this work is clever and engaging with charming characterisation (in this casting) from dancers Matthew Lehmann, Chihiro Nomura and a sassy Oscar Valdés.

The world premiere of In-Synch follows. Conceived by Aurélien Scannella and Sandy Delasalle this is an improvised work with the musical score selected by the audience each night. Performance improvisation, as those of us who have tried it will attest, is immensely challenging and demanding. The craft often requires years of specific training even without the added restriction and specificity of the classical form, and unfortunately this ambitious experiment misses the mark.

The company dancers move between a series of constructed tableaus using guided frameworks featuring morphing lighting states by Michael Rippon and movement provocations by former WAB dancer David Mack. For the most part, the work felt structurally transparent and tentative at the performance viewed, though a brief duet by Dayana Hardy and Juan Carlos Osma found space to captivate with stunning partnering and responsiveness.

Concluding the evening, is Reincarnation, a new work created for this season by renowned Australian choreographer Garry Stewart. Bold and visually striking, Reincarnation uses company artists and dancers from Co3 Australia, to full exertion. Clad in saturated reds and blues, ungendered bodies parade in ritualistic procession, moving with Stewart’s characteristic tension and physical intensity. Eccentric and at times ironic, the suspended fantasy felt bewildering and otherworldly but it was difficult to remain completely absorbed, despite the theatrics. Fire-cracker Katherine Gurr (Co3 Australia) and the lithe Polly Hilton (WAB) delivered powerful commanding performances amongst a cast of proficient and committed artists.

Artistic opinions aside, it was wonderful to see an Australian choreographer, particularly one of such esteem in the programming this year, as well as witnessing the (currently) rare opportunity for professional West Australian artists in ballet and contemporary disciplines to share the process and the stage together at a Perth Festival event. I look forward to future collaborations between these two wonderful companies.

“In Synch: Ballet at the Quarry” runs until March 2.

Pictured top: Julio Blanes and Carina Roberts in ‘X-it’. Photo: Sergey Pevnev.

Dancers of West Australian Ballet and Co3 Australia in ‘Reincarnation’. Photo: Sergey Pevnev.
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Something to be proud of

Black Swan State Theatre Company, Our Town ·
State Theatre Centre of WA Courtyard, 10 February ·
Review by Claire Trolio ·

Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize winning play Our Town has come to Perth under the watchful eye of Black Swan State Theatre Company’s artistic director Clare Watson. This season of Wilder’s 1938 work is one of ten local productions under the Made in WA banner in Wendy Martin’s fourth and final Perth Festival programme: a line-up that champions the wealth of creative talent in our own backyard.

Although set in the fictional American town of Grover’s Corner, Our Town has maintained appeal the world over for the last eight decades because of its lasting relevance. The minutiae of the day-to-day and the themes of life, love and death are universal and timeless.

But Black Swan’s production provides an extra layer of relatability for its home-town audience. It’s intrinsically linked to our city.

Watson has cast Ian Michael, a Nyoongar man, in the lead role of Stage Manager in this metatheatrical piece. Addressing the audience and carrying the narrative with grace and a dash of cheekiness – as well as playing one of the characters – Michael has a charming stage presence that’s impossible not to enjoy.

Michael is one of three professional actors in Our Town, alongside Shari Sebbens as the stoic Mrs Gibbs and Abbie-lee Lewis as the delightful Emily. To make up the rest of the cast, Watson has invited members of the local community to share the stage. The milkman and his horse Bessie are played by your friendly Uber Eats courier and his bicycle, ice cream sodas are delivered by the conveniently located Chico Gelato. A local doctor, undertaker and priest fill those roles… and so on. There’s a danger of wooden acting and dull dialogue but instead, the community members shine, adding a realness (and a heap of fun) that does justice to Watson’s ambitious vision.

Given Our Town‘s famously stark set – an Australian souvenir tea towel is both an Antipodean touch  and a rare prop – the weight of the play sits even more firmly than usual on the shoulders of the performers, heightening Watson’s risk… but it works.

As I sat outside in the State Theatre Centre Courtyard, the summer night feeling like a warm blanket around my shoulders and the sounds of Northbridge in the background, I couldn’t have been anywhere else in the world. And I wouldn’t want to be, either. Our Town might be about every town, but this production is ours, and it’s something to be proud of.

Our Town plays the State Theatre Courtyard until February 23.

Picture top: Ian Michael and Shayani Galhenage. Photo: Daniel J. Grant.

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Spirits united by love and loss

Perth Festival review: STRUT Dance and Maxine Doyle with Tura New Music: Sunset ·  
Sunset Heritage Precinct, 7 February ·
Special guest review by WAAPA 2018 graduate Giorgia Schijf* ·

The totality of the Sunset experience begins from your commute to the unique site, winding through Perth’s ostentatious Western suburbs, overlooking the glimmering Swan River. The luxurious mansions decorating the neighbourhood are juxtaposed by the abandoned Sunset Old Men’s Home, where this magically unsettling dance theatre piece lives.

Artistic director of Sunset Maxine Doyle was inspired by the empty, silent space of the Sunset Heritage Precinct. She saw a place waiting to be filled with the voices of its past, saying, “Art brings those buildings to life and diffuses it with…a new beginning.”

Upon arrival, a man in a tuxedo greets you with the sombre sound of a violin. You file into the main location of the century-old building, red dirt spilling out of the walls; dust diffusing into the air, leaving a mysterious haze. You proceed into an old dining hall lined by muted blue and yellow walls; a stage, a canteen and a pile of chairs outline the space. This is where majority of the performance unfolds.

A pleasant nurse dressed in whites (Bernadette Lewis) offers the audience tea and biscuits upon arrival, I accept the offer. The slightly cold tea is unsettling, a perfect match to the ominous climate of the room.

Lines are blurred between performer and audience from the start and viewers indulge in a 360-degree experience. The audience is entertained by an array of characters from different times and places. The STRUT dancers masterfully inhabit the distinctive personas, all united by the universal feeling of loss.

A dance begins upon the old-school stage, of a young girl prancing and twirling as if stuck in a dream. Nimble dancer Viola Iida embodies the spirit of a lost daughter, who is summoned by a veiled, mysterious woman, her malevolent presence central to the disturbing nature of the piece.

Now, an imagined resident of the Sunset sanctuary, named Alfred Ganz and played by Humphrey Bower, recites a poem. His memories are the soundscape for a weeping mother in black (Natalie Allen). As she stumbles at the loss of her child, her sense of grief is vivid and poignant.

A woman sits in a window frame, in the dark.
Window frames become a portal between the living and the dead. Pictured is Viola Iida. Photo: Toni X

Her affliction follows her into a solo where she flails and flies across a wall lined in windows. Luminescent vignettes of the remaining characters glide behind the glass, like moving Renaissance paintings. The windows are now a portal between the living and the dead, as figures fly in and out of the frames to try and save Allen from her harrowing flounder. It’s beautifully evocative image.

The ghostly figures infiltrate the space as the energy of the piece crescendos; a miniature live orchestra is revealed and provides a stirring soundscape. Dancers circulate the room, relentlessly falling, throwing their bodies towards each other.

A procession of dancers emerges calmly amongst the virtuosic movement. One by one, each dancer stares deep into the eyes of each audience member, sharing their grief through the intimate gaze.

Guided by the haunting voice of lead vocalist (and composer/sound designer) Rachael Dease, the piece ends outside, amongst a garden of lights. The audience finishes gazing up at the performers, who stand on a hill, staring longingly at the river. I was so transfixed by my surroundings that I couldn’t believe the show was over.

The perfect marriage of dance, design and music transported me to another time and place, a place that smelt of tears, sounded of breaking hearts and was filled with spirits united by love and loss.

Truly unforgettable, a must-see.

Sunset plays Sunset Heritage precinct until February 17.

* Giorgia Schijf is a 2018 WAAPA Dance graduate and the winner of  the WAAPA Dance Prize for the most outstanding written review of a dance performance, 2018. This is a special award for the WAAPA dance student who made the most outstanding contribution to the field of dance criticism throughout their studies at WAAPA. The award, made possible by Seesaw Magazine and Perth Festival, allows the award winner to review a 2019 Perth Festival dance work, and have that review published in Seesaw Magazine.

Seesaw is delighted to publish Giorgia’s work.

You can also read Seesaw editor Nina Levy’s review of ‘Sunset’ here.

Pictured top: Sarah Maelor. Photo: Simon Pynt.

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Dance, News, Perth Festival, Reviews

Doyle’s ghostly dreams delight

Perth Festival review: STRUT Dance and Maxine Doyle with Tura New Music, Sunset ·
Sunset Heritage Precinct, 7 February ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

The world of Maxine Doyle’s dance theatre work Sunset at first seems benign. On arrival, we are instructed to “follow the fairy lights” to a charmingly makeshift reception area, complete with bar and outdoor tables. A violinist (Brian Kruger) plays and as he wends his way towards one of the dilapidated old buildings that make up the Sunset Heritage Precinct, we follow him, Pied Piper style. So far, so whimsical… but once we are ushered inside, it’s a different story.

UK-based Doyle, who has collaborated with WA’s STRUT Dance to create Sunset, is renowned for her immersive theatre works. True to form, there’s a sense of falling down the rabbit hole as we cross the threshold of the now-decommissioned Sunset hospital. We are shepherded through to the performance space, passing rooms that are awash with red dirt – “I almost expect a body to be buried inside,” whispers my plus one – before arriving in a large hall, scattered haphazardly with vintage metal chairs on which we may sit.

Ghost-like, a dozen or so characters waft and wander amongst us, a white uniformed nurse, a glitter-gilded man, a stumbling drunk, a black clad glamour-girl. Accompanied by a string quartet playing original compositions by Rachael Dease, vignettes happen in various locations, so that we’re constantly swivelling to see the next instalment. At first the atmosphere is Tim Burton-esque, funny with a strong dash of spooky to keep you on your toes. On the stage, a dancer (Viola Iida) performs a balletic solo with a mini-corps (corpse?) of three skeletons. Behind the kitchen counter, a manic cook (Timothy Green) prepares a cake, as dancers’ limbs slip and slide in and out of view.

Amidst the audience, the one named character, Alfred Ganz (Humphrey Bower), recites heavily accented poetry and reminisces about days past. The mood shifts and saddens as ghosts from the past seem to rise and envelop us. The string score is at once poignant and discomforting. At the moonlit windows, figures creep, collapse and recover in a sculptural and spectral parade. Drums sound from unseen speakers – it’s as though the rafters of the building are rumbling. Even when the characters unite for a joyous folk-style romp, it’s undercut by the minor key mournfulness of the string quartet.

Rachael Dease’s rich and haunting vocals are key in creating the sense of otherworldliness that pervades this work. Brendan Hanson’s voice, in contrast, brings warmth and nostalgia to the proceedings. The pair’s final, plaintive duet is achingly beautiful and a highlight of the evening. Dease is to be congratulated on her evocative score  (which I would purchase, should a recording be made, hint hint) and sound design.

This work is beautifully and sensitively performed by the cast of twelve dancers and actors, and five musicians, and there are numerous moments that could be named as stand outs. In particular, though, Natalie Allen’s brief whirling solo had a bird-like intensity that was compelling, while Sarah Mealor was spectral in hers, a dark wraith weaving a spell on the audience.

Doyle and her creative team lead us into a place of ghostly dreams and haunting memories. It’s well worth a visit… but if you haven’t booked you’d better get in quick.

Sunset plays Sunset Heritage precinct until February 17.

Pictured top: A joyous folk-style romp. Photo: Simon Pynt.

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Turquoise Theatre
Fringe World, News, Reviews, Theatre

A dark double take

Fringe World review: Turquoise Theatre, Lake Disappointment ·
The Blue Room Theatre as part of Summer Nights, 5 February ·
Review by Jenny Scott ·

Lake Disappointment is a one-man show starring Joel Sammels as a body double, a man whose professional value is determined by his resemblance to a particular movie star.

As the Double shares his inner thoughts while substituting for the star in the production of a new film, it quickly becomes clear that he is confusing the boundaries between himself and the man he looks like.

Hyper-aware of his physical appearance, fixated on his minor achievements, and desperately waiting for his celebrity lookalike to arrive on set, the Double’s undoing is disquieting and inevitable as his grip on reality starts to slip.

Sammels gives an impassioned performance in this production, which was directed by Susannah Thompson and written by Lachlan Philpott with Luke Mullins.

It is particularly striking to hear the Double’s monologue while watching him enact the banal, repetitive tasks that are required when shooting close-up movie footage – holding and releasing a heroic pose, or grasping his fingers around a coffee cup again and again.

While Sammels evokes sympathy for a man who attaches far too much meaning to childhood recollections and casual encounters, there is some tonal confusion in the production’s attempts to balance humour and poignancy.

Although billed as a dark comedy, the script offers less laugh-out-loud moments and more wry smiles in recognition of familiar tropes, as the Double’s narcissistic traits and the trappings of showbiz are painted in broad strokes.

Lake Disappointment plays The Blue Room Theatre until February 9.

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Cabaret, Fringe World, News, Reviews

Captivating from start to finish

Fringe World review: Holland St Productions, What Doesn’t Kill You [blah blah] Stronger ·
Downstairs at The Maj, 5 February ·
Review by Jenny Scott ·

What Doesn’t Kill You [blah blah] Stronger is a gloriously funny whirlwind of a cabaret, paying tribute to those who have suffered notable near-death experiences – such as Alexander Selkirk (who was marooned on an island of feral cats), Anne Hodges (the only known person to be hit by a meteorite), and Violet Jessup (the unfortunate stewardess who survived three shipwrecks).

Although most of these stories will sound familiar to anyone with a passing interest in weird historical anecdotes, the aggressively charismatic Erin Hutchinson and Tyler Jacob Jones transform these tales into a diverse assortment of hilarious musical numbers.

Joined by Joshua Haines on piano, who plays an original score by composer Robert Woods, this cast of three exceptionally skilled local performers is an absolute delight to watch on stage. Their ceaseless enthusiasm, faultless musical capabilities and charmingly weird jokes ensure that the show remains captivating from beginning to end.

Special mention goes to Jones’s two-hatted “trio” musical number – and where else can you hear WA performers use their classically trained voices to sing about faeces over a calypso beat?

What Doesn’t Kill You… was last seen at the 2018 Fringe World, where it won both the Martin Sims Award for the best new Western Australian work, and the The West Australian Arts Editor Award. It’s easy to see why.

What Does Kill You [blah blah] stronger plays Downstairs at the Maj until February 9.

Pictured top are Tyler Jacob Jones and Erin Hutchinson. Photo: Pia Fruin.

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