Intercurrent "Sensory Horizons"
Contemporary music, Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Pleasing minimalism

Review: Intercurrent, “Sensory Horizons”, programmed by Tura New Music ·
Subiaco Arts Centre, 19 June ·
Review by Tiffany Ha ·

Intercurrent is an exciting new music ensemble based in Perth. The initiative came from some of the best local conservatory-trained musicians: composer Lachlan Skipworth, percussionist Louise Devenish, pianist Emily Green-Armytage and clarinettist Ashley Smith. They’re supported by Tura New Music – a small but distinguished organisation that emerged, thirty years ago, from the somewhat shrouded world of contemporary-classical and experimental art music. As with any other niche, there is a small community of diehard followers who will attend anything – rain, hail or shine. In my days as an eager composition student, I probably would have considered myself among the enlightened few. But in recent years I stopped going to these sorts of concerts. I stopped connecting with what I was hearing; I couldn’t tell if I actually enjoyed myself – was I just pretending? I became disheartened by the small, selective audiences. And becoming a composer seemed to me a hopeless, pointless, spurious endeavour. That is to say, I came to “Sensory Horizons” with my own baggage.

The evening began with a casual pre-concert talk on stage, facilitated by musicologist Sarah Collins. She spoke with Smith and Devenish about the origins and intentions of Intercurrent. The two musicians admitted, with a slight hint of sheepishness, that they were all “closet minimalists” – that they admired composers such as Philip Glass, whose distinctive style (emerging from New York in the latter part of the twentieth century) continues to influence today’s film composers, electronic music producers, math rock bands and a whole host of artists across various disciplines. Minimalism (in music) is something most people have heard without having heard of. It’s characterised by simple motifs, repetition, layering, and a harmonic clarity that makes it far more accessible than other forms of art music. Both the listener and the performer become acutely aware of the medium of music itself: time.

Intercurrent decided to name this particular concert “Sensory Horizons” because the pieces they programmed showcased the horizontal aspect of music more than the traditional vertical aspect. This kind of music comes to life like a Bob Ross painting, where plain backgrounds – flat, meaningless, washes of colour – transform into majestic landscapes with each stroke. Figures within the composition are always suggestive and never imposing. Such is the exquisitely paced multi-media work by John Supko, This Window Makes Me Feel (2005). The piece begins with a tape recording of incomprehensible whispers and shuffling. Above the stage, there’s a video projection: we seem to be looking through the eyes of somebody walking through Manhattan. Their gaze darts around and their perspective is always obscured – by rain drops, by diffused glass – so that nothing is seen clearly. On top of the whispering, which sounds like the internal monologue of an anxious introvert (takes one to know one), we hear stirrings of piano, vibraphone, muffled bell chimes and bass clarinet. The sounds build and fade over a length of time that at first feels tiresome, then revelatory. The juxtaposition between the emotionally unsettling audio-visual elements and the calmly persistent instrumental lines was profound.

It was a treat to see the core members of Intercurrent joined by some special musical guests: violinist Akiko Miyazawa, cellist Jon Tooby and Michael Howell on flute. They featured on the last three pieces of the program: Subito, an energetic violin piece by Witold Lutosławski; and two exciting pieces by Perth composer Lachlan Skipworth, The Crossing II and The Crossing I. It’s not often you get to see classically-trained musicians performing works with which they have such a strong personal connection. Skipworth conducted his own pieces with precision and intense, brow-furrowing concentration – most likely to navigate the frequent and hectic changes in time signature. His works feature waves of restless arpeggios – oscillating, weaving, reversing, blurring the boundary between acoustic and electronic sound. As my partner put it, Skipworth’s pieces sound “like Jaga Jazzist but more refined”. It’s a good example of the kind of music that gets labelled these days as “Classical-Crossover” – it’ll impress your arty friends; it won’t alienate your normie friends.

As for my own baggage, I left “Sensory Horizons” with unexpected feelings of optimism and self- acceptance. I realised there was no shame in admitting that, for several years, the programming of new music in Perth just didn’t strike a chord with me. I felt great respect for Intercurrent – not just for being exceptionally talented musicians, but for initiating this passion project of theirs, for seeing a gap and filling it. And I’m grateful that they inadvertently validated my own musical tastes; I have always been a (not-so-closeted) minimalist myself.

For more information about Intercurrent head to www.facebook.com/intercurrent

For more information about Tura New Music head to www.tura.com.au 

Top: Intercurrent performing “Sensory Horizons”.

 

Black Swan State Theatre's production of Assassins (Music & lyrics by Stephen Sondheim), Directed by Roger Hodgman; Heath Ledger Theatre, 15th June 2018, photographed by Philip Gostelow.
Musical theatre, News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

A kind of magic

Review: Black Swan Theatre Company, Assassins ·
State Theatre Centre of WA , June 20 ·
Review by Xan Ashbury ·

Created by Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman in 1991, Assassins tells the stories of nine people who committed or attempted to commit political murder in the US over the past two centuries.

It is a giddy, mind-warping ride on a time-machine. Alternative history meets magic realism, perfect in this disturbing age of “alternative facts”.

I gave birth to my youngest son, Carter, in California a decade ago. And while I am desperate to return on holiday, my little American (he was 10 weeks old when we left the country) is reluctant, on the basis of “Trump and guns”. When fear and loathing of America’s president and gun culture plagues even a West Australian pre-teen, you can safely say Assassins has contemporary resonance.

0N8A0459 Nick Eynaud, Caitilin Beresford-Ord, Brendan Hanson, Natasha Vickery, Will O'Mahony. Assassins. Image credit Philip Gostelow.
Masterfully directed by Roger Hodgman: Nick Eynaud, Caitilin Beresford-Ord, Brendan Hanson, Natasha Vickery & Will O’Mahony. Photo: Philip Gostelow.

John Wilkes Booth (Brendan Hanson) tries to rationalise his assassination of Abraham Lincoln in the Ford Theatre, blaming him for the Civil War and destruction of the South. Leon Czolgosz (Cameron Steens) rants about the plight of the downtrodden working class. Charles Guiteau (played to comedic perfection by Will O’Mahony) really, really wants to sell copies of his book.

The musical, masterfully directed by Roger Hodgman, with musical direction by Jangoo Chapkhana, moves through various times and places with imagined meetings between the assassins. They rub shoulders at a fairground and a bar. Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme (Mackenzie Dunn) extols the “virtues” of her lover Charles Manson to Sara Jane Moore (Caitlin Beresford-Ord) before the pair gleefully shoot at a bucket of KFC. All of the assassins appear before Lee Harvey Oswald (Finn Alexander) in the Texas School Book Depository, egging him on to shoot JFK.

The result is stunning, thanks to Weidman’s innovative narrative structure and thought-provoking characterisation, and Lawrie Cullen-Tait’s impressive set, onto which are projected photographs and archival footage.

The production invites reflection about the quiet (and not so quiet) desperation of the marginalised, disenfranchised and, perhaps, the mentally ill. It cleverly humanises these names from history without moralising or condoning their crimes.

And as I sat savouring the quirky genius of Sondheim’s music and lyrics and the flawless performances by the Black Swan cast, I had one of those Connectedness-Of-All-Things moments.

You see, I did not name my son after former US president Jimmy Carter, as friends often assume (Trump’s opposite in so many respects); I named him after a San Franciscan showman. While pregnant, I read Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold, a fictionalised biography of the magician known as Carter the Great. Much of the novel centres on the mysterious assassination of President Harding, who dies shortly after taking part in Carter’s stage show in 1923.

Mackenzie Dunn, Nick Eynaud. Assassins. Image credit Philip Gostelow.
Photographs and archival footage are projected onto Lawrie Cullen-Tait’s impressive set. Pictured: Mackenzie Dunn & Nick Eynaud. Photo: Philip Gostelow.

Harding is not among presidents featured in Assassins, though. There’s Lincoln, McKinley, Roosevelt, Nixon, Kennedy, Ford and Reagan. But no Harding. I had to Google it later: Turns out Harding died of pneumonia after a bout of food poisoning. Gold had simply invented the assassination as a plot device.

So here’s my theory/alternative history: The seed was planted when Gold attended a production of Assassins in New York 1991. He was inspired by the story of Lincoln’s assassination at the theatre in 1865. He loved the musical’s unabashed blending of fact and fiction. After years of labour, his homage to Assassins, his novel/baby, was born in 2001.

Gold’s gift to the world is a novel all about a great escape and a little bit of magic. Watching a musical about political assassinations mightn’t sound very upbeat but somehow Assassins was a great escape from our collective anxiety about what Carter sums up as “Trump and guns”. Even while staring down the barrel of a gun.

And that is a kind of magic.

Assassins plays the State Theatre Centre of WA until July 1.

Top: The cast gave flawless performances. Pictured: Will O’Mahony, Natasha Vickery, Nick Eynaud, Caitlin Beresford-Ord, Brendan Hanson in “Assassins”. Photo: Philip Gostelow.

 

three dancers
News, Performing arts, Reviews

A mixed bag of Short Cuts

Review: STRUT dance “Short Cuts, Program A” ·
King Street Arts Centre, June 14 ·
Review by Varnya Bromilow ·

If you’re not familiar with contemporary dance, I’d recommend the hot bath strategy – one toe at a time until you’re fully in.  STRUT dance’s “Short Cuts” is an annual program of curated short works that presents an easy way to get better acquainted with this often misunderstood discipline.  It’s important to note that these works are essentially in draft form and created in a very short amount of time – you’re getting raw ideas, some of which warrant further exploration, some of which do not.

Last Thursday an enthusiastic throng packed into one of the studios at King Street Arts Centre to check out the fare on offer.  It was an unusually lengthy program, compared to the traditional Short Cuts hour-long show and comprised nine pieces.  The first, Dance, Quiet Riot was choreographed by Emma Fishwick, an associate artist with CO3 Australia.  Fishwick is a multidisciplinary artist with a strong visual sense on effective display here.  Two dancers performed elegant, synchronized phrases in the centre of the square stage, while four others formed a sombre perimeter.  All were wreathed in sheer fabric – a bold choice for an all-female work.  Can the work transcend the spectacle of the naked form or is it more of a distraction?  The dance was executed with a gorgeous, rolling grace, but if I’m perfectly honest, I felt a bit ashamed of my inability not to be distracted by so many naked breasts.  But even my shortcomings as a viewer could not detract from the ability showcased – Fishwick has a clear vision, refreshing in its confidence.

Another highlight of the program was a trio of brief works curated by a key choreographer of the Perth independent scene, Bernadette Lewis.  The first, Miss Where are My Pills, was choreographed and performed by Natalie Allen with Lewis also performing.  Allen, the recipient of a bagful of awards, is an insane dancer to watch.  Her combination of precision, energy and frenzied bustle is just extraordinary.  This work was no exception and the complementary style of Lewis provided an additional measure of inspired looseness – Lewis has a gift for looking like she’s having so much fun while she dances.

Following this was my choice of the evening – Miss Fury choreographed by Laura Boynes and performed by the choreographer and Lewis.  I’m not sure whether it’s the subversion of the “seriousness” of contemporary dance, or if it’s just because I love a good laugh, but I am a total sucker for dance with a sense of humour.  Boynes and Lewis stroll onstage, mouthing pre-recorded words of a conversation that tackles tropes of modern feminism with a rare hilarity.  Boynes is creating a strong reputation for herself as a maker of politically charged art, yet she has a lightness of touch that is truly inspired.  The duo slip into dance – inventive hand movement here warrants special note – and as strains from Puccini’s Madame Butterfly swell, together they seal a perfect package of art and humour cut through with politics.

Not every idea was a winner.  Joshua Pether’s Water Stories was a tentative work, big on ideas but scant on the dance.  And while there was a lot of heart in Ellen-Hope Thomson’s Moth, the execution missed the mark.  Conversely, The Sessions provided another blistering display of Natalie Allen’s talents and when coupled with Samuel Harnett-Welk’s technical prowess, one could only marvel at the skill evident, if not anything resembling meaning.

At the conclusion of the program, STRUT’s Paul Selwyn Norton asked the audience to vote for which work deserved the extra time and funding to be further developed.  With half the slate of works worthy of further exploration, Selwyn Norton and his team are spoiled for choice – and that was only Thursday night.  We’ll see the results of the voting as part of the upcoming MoveMe Festival later in the year.

For more info head to: www.strutdance.org.au

Photo: Simon Pynt.

Bus Boy
News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

Nuanced and intense: a wonderful back-to-back billing

Review: Rorschach Beast, Bus Boy and Static Drive Co, Tissue ·
Subiaco Arts Centre, 20 June ·
Review by Steven Cohen ·

The frailty of human connection haunts both Rorschach Beast’s Bus Boy and Static Drive Co’s Tissue. Written and produced by two sets of talented local writers and production companies and staged for the Subiaco Theatre Festival, this back-to-back billing works to contrast the nuances of friendship with the intensity of sex.

With characters positioned on stage as the audience entered the auditorium, and disembowelled bicycle parts hanging from above, it seemed likely from the outset that Bus Boy would be an immersive experience. And so it was.

Produced by local theatre company Rorschach Beast, and written by and starring Izzy McDonald with a marvellous performance by Sean Guastavino, Bus Boy explores themes such as coming of age, sexual abuse and human connection through the lens of Bus Boy (Guastavino), a young man with Asperger’s syndrome, and a slightly manipulative “older” woman, Gerry (McDonald).

The play is set on Rottnest and local theatre goers will be aware of the juxtaposition of the island’s long and dark history with its reputation as a summer playground. This sits neatly with Gerry’s wild abandon and the super-laced restraint of Bus Boy.

An intense and personal affair, the play carefully treads the line between banal platitude and common cliché. With subtlety and nuance aplenty, the work allows the audience to walk away with all kinds of lessons, from the fragility and danger of youth to the importance of growing up and embracing what it means to be an adult.

Isn’t that what the theatre is for?

Tissue
Although there are only three characters on stage, ‘Tissue’ is bursting with humanity. L-R: Ann-Marie Biagioni, Jess Moyle and Samjey Hayes.

The second play, aptly named Tissue, and written by two WAAPA graduates, Timothy Green and Samantha Nerida, differentiated itself from the austere seductiveness of Bus Boy with its overt drama, making for an effective evening’s programming.

Originally staged in 2016 at Perth’s Blue Room Theatre, Tissue borrows from seventeenth century theatre to brazenly confront the themes of contemporary love and sex.

In this gratuitous but sometimes tender and funny exposition of the lives of a young couple, we are greeted by two protagonists (Samjey Hayes and Jess Moyle), and also a fifth business*, played by the talented Ann-Marie Biagioni.

Using sex and relationships, Biagoni’s character probes both protagonists by engaging them in a chorus dialogue. This technique blends old with new, to construct an intense and fertile philosophical disquisition on our enjoyment of pornography, its relationship to our own sexual selves and the inherent instincts to keep these thoughts secret.

Sex and love are on full display. Tissue examines so many affairs of the heart that the play gains a giddy momentum, climaxing in a frenzied amalgam of broken hearts and sweaty bodies. By the end you may feel dizzy and over-sensitized to the whirlpool that is young romance. Although there are only three characters on stage, the play is bursting with humanity, making it appear much larger than it is, and illustrating our own delicate sexuality.

The play charts Alex (Hayes) and Zoe’s (Moyle) romantic relationship. Taking a course that neither intended, the play morphs into a hotbed (no pun intended) of frayed lives. Spanning about twelve months, at a time when youth permits such infinite change, the characters explore the possibility of being someone other than themselves.

From the rapture of love, to the dissonance of porn, Tissue takes us on a wild ride. You can’t help but feel compassion for the characters as they bumble about fearlessly searching for loving attachments, but coming up empty handed.

Two wonderfully synchronistic performances, well worth seeing.

 

* A “fifth business” is an old theatrical term, used to describe a character who is neither hero nor villain, but nonetheless crucial for revealing the plot.

Bus Boy plays Subiaco Arts Centre until June 23.

Tissue plays Subiaco Arts Centre until June 23.

Pictured top: Izzy McDonald and Sean Guastavino in ‘Bus Boy’.

Features, News, Performing arts, Theatre

Poetry in survival

Imagine surviving a tsunami.

HIRO tells the true story of a man who did just that, swept out to sea, clinging to the roof of his house. Named after its protagonist, Hiromitsu Shinkawa, this devised theatrical work is by Samantha Chester in collaboration with Humphrey Bower and is adapted from the long form article “The man who sailed his house”, by American writer Michael Paterniti.

Seesaw’s Nina Levy was fascinated by the article and the decision to turn it into a work of theatre… so she caught up with Chester to find out more.

Nina Levy: You have a career of multiple strands, connected by performance… how do you describe what you do?
Samantha Chester: I feel that I travel on a spectrum, from being able to work in dance and dance theatre into performance making and devising, and then into the more traditional theatre spaces. I think it has happened this way to enable me to survive in the arts as well as follow my interest in the stories I want to tell.

This work has also sat along my work as someone who has activated spaces for artists over the past 12 years. I still co-direct a space in Sydney called ReadyMade Works for independent dancers and I continue in my role as an educator at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA). I have tried to hone my craft and my abilities to be adaptable and able to work across many forms. Being connected by performance and story is the priority – how to tell the story of our time.

I think performing and making live performance is unique because no two performances are the same and that’s the beauty of it. In live performance, only the ability to bring yourself fully to the NOW as a performer is what exists. It is very exciting, that charge between performer and audience.

So, in answer to your question… what I do is try and create conditions for creativity, to be able to support artists in this journey, as an educator, and to be able to make work well, with an interest in exploring a variety of different forms that start and end with the body… it’s a privilege.

NL: Your first tertiary qualification was a BA in dance but the work you make and do is multi-disciplinary. How did you come to move from conventional dance into the world of interdisciplinary performing arts?
SC: I think it was a survival mechanism and the variety of opportunities that came my way, that meant that I worked across a variety of mediums. Sometimes you just have to say yes and work outside your comfort zone – some of the best experiences I have had have been in forms I am unfamiliar with, like doing the movement with director Shannon Murphy on a site-specific opera at the Art Gallery of NSW.

I think going to NIDA and doing the Movement Studies course also allowed me to integrate my love of movement and theatre – it was here that I first starting making work. Also, honestly, I don’t think I was a very good dancer – LOL – I think I had guts and courage but was not technically virtuosic. I had a great dancing spirit, one of ballet lecturers told me… so maybe that’s why… I loved the form, the way it could change you and that the body as a tool for expression has limitless potential to tell a story. I have been interested in this medium my whole life – so, although the work I do can be multi-disciplinary, it is the body that I return to.

HIRO, I guess, is one of the first pieces I have directed that has so much text and it is well and truly a collaboration with Humphrey Bower who is a co-creator, performer and adapted the text, Kylie Maree (performer and collaborator), Tim Green (collaborator and stage manager), Ekrem Eli Phoenix (composer), Phoebe Pilcher (lightning designer) and Rhys Morris (set designer).

NL: You are from Sydney and established yourself as a maker, director, performer and educator there. What brought you to Perth?
SC: I came to take a job at WAAPA. I had been working at the Actors Centre in Sydney for seven years as the Head of Movement and later as the Associate Director. Andrew Lewis, Associate Professor at WAAPA, approached me to come on a one-year contract.

I work in the Acting department as a movement lecturer, and direct work and co-ordinate and curate their program. I also work for the Performance Making course, in Devising for Physical Performance and Solo Making. I was also lucky enough to make a work on the LINK dancers last year, which was a treat. It is a big job, very exhausting at times but very rewarding.

HIRO cast member Kylie Maree in rehearsal.

NL: “The man who sailed his house” is an incredible piece of writing, at once poetic but also so exact in its descriptions… how did the decision to adapt the piece into a devised theatrical work come about?
SC: I have had this story for about five years. A student at the Actors Centre brought it in when we were making a work around 2012. I was struck by the intimacy of the story, set against the enormity of the disaster and felt it could be a wonderful piece of theatre. Then, moving to Perth, I met Humphrey Bower, who I had worked with on Overexposed with Danielle Micich. We starting talking about making something and I said what about this… I then went to the writer Michael Paterniti who gave us his blessing and off we went. Although Humphrey and I both adapted it, Humphrey’s work with the words has been amazing.

NL: HIRO is the second part of a three-part trilogy, that starts with your 2016 work The Astronaut. How does HIRO fit into this trilogy?
SC: I am interested in loss and recovery of the human spirit. I think loss is what changes us the most and how and, if we recover as people, well that is the thing. The trilogy looks at three different experiences of loss and recovery, The Astronaut: domestic, HIRO: natural disaster… and, well, you will have to wait for the third.

This work, in particular, looks at hubris and the decisions we make it life – that at the flip of a coin our whole lives can be altered forever and perhaps points to the hubris of the human race and what we are blindly ignoring because of ego or our refusal to change – it will and is catching up to us.

NL: How do you find life in Perth?
SC: I love Perth. I love the arts community and the support you feel. I think Perth is very supportive of makers and inventor in the arts. I also love, love, love the nature here, it is just so unique and beautiful.

My favourite thing is walking by the river listening to the frogs.

HIRO is playing the Blue Room Theatre until 7 July. Stay tuned for Seesaw’s review!

Pictured top: Samantha Chester and Humphrey Bower rehearsing ‘HIRO’.

Semiconductor_Black Rain_Photo by Rebecca Mansell (1)
Film, News, Reviews, Visual arts

A striking solar exploration

Review: Semiconductor, Brilliant Noise/Black Rain ·
Fremantle Arts Centre ·
Review by Phoebe Mulcahy ·

Despite it being one hundred-and-fifty million kilometres from the Earth and so bright we can’t even look directly at it for more than a few seconds, there’s no doubt our relationship to the Sun is both profound and fundamental. Like the God it was seen to be by so many ancient cultures, this “luminous disc in the sky” looms large in human life, seeming at once close and distant, and as life-threatening as it is life-giving. Such paradoxes as these are drawn out in an exhibition of solar-themed video works by UK artist duo Semiconductor (Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt), on show at the Fremantle Arts Centre (FAC) until next month.

Semiconductor_Black Rain_Photo by Rebecca Mansell (1)
Gently cascading images: ‘Black Rain’. Photo: Rebecca Mansell.

Brought to FAC as part of the Revelation Perth International Film Festival, the exhibition encompasses two video works, Brilliant Noise and Black Rain, both of which feature imagery sourced from solar observatories and satellites. Making use of scientific data, both to explore the interface between nature and technology and push the boundaries of the moving image, has become a feature of Semiconductor’s work.

Jarman and Gerhardt have been collaborating for nearly twenty years. It’s curious to note, however, that the two works selected for this show only seem to date from around halfway through their career (2006 and 2009 respectively), which, given the advances in technology witnessed since that time, lends an almost retro air to the works, as though they’ve been pulled out from archives that have only just begun to gather dust.

In fact, there is an oddly covert or classified feeling to the imagery in general. Brilliant Noise, in particular, with its unremittingly grainy and crackling scenes of energetic particles and solar wind, gives an impression not only of the extraordinary power at the surface of the Sun, but also, almost humorously, of CCTV footage on the largest scale imaginable.

Combined with a highly discordant and tense soundtrack, you keep waiting for something to jump out, or a crescendo that doesn’t quite arrive. After all, intensity like this is nothing out of the ordinary where one hundred billion nuclear explosions are taking place every second. Black Rain, though inescapably coloured by its counterpart’s soundtrack hissing through the dividing curtains, is much more meditative in nature, with gently cascading images that evoke the distance between Earth and the Sun. Together, the works offer an incredibly striking perspective on this most central of natural phenomena, and bring us as close to its explosive surface as one would ever want to get.

Brilliant Noise/Black Rain runs until Sunday 15 July.

Pictured top: ‘Brilliant Noise’. Photo: Rebecca Mansell.

When he gets that way
News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

A restrained battle of wit

Review: Susie Conte, When He Gets That Way ·
Subiaco Arts Cenre, 15 June ·
Review by Claire Trolio ·

Directed by Susie Conte, When He Gets That Way is one of seven performances by Western Australian theatre makers being presented this month as part of the Subiaco Theatre Festival. An unspecified period drama, the play pits a Downton Abbey-style upper-class mistress against her new handmaiden; the pair cleverly competing in a restrained battle of wit.

Lady Annabelle desperately seeks a life beyond her vacuous existence, craving a tryst and striving for the romantic connection that is alive in her mind. Socially upward scullery-turned-handmaid Christiane (whose peasant upbringing “wasn’t all peaches and creme”, she’ll have you know) seeks to move above mediocrity and has the charm to do so.

The dialogue between the two characters is packed with simile that gets increasingly preposterous (and hilarious) as the show unfolds. Using their diaries as weapons, the two women set creative entries against one another in an absurdist comedy where each yearns to be relevant in a society that doesn’t offer much agency to women of either class.

A private diary has long been a place where women are allowed to be themselves, to exercise freedom and voice desires, and the characters in When He Gets That Way use this tool to break free of patriarchal constraints, if only for a little while.

Both actors give fantastic performances. Lady Annabelle (director Lisa Louttit) embodies the excess that her upper class character oozes. Appearing with a comically oversized skirt, complete with tulle tendrils, Louttit’s shrill character teeters on the edge of overplay, but her experience on the stage shines through; she doles out as much ridiculousness as can be handled in a 75 minute show and no more.

WAAPA Music Theatre graduate Tarryn Ryan, playing Christiane, is a revelation. She allows her character to feign innocence and servitude whilst cleverly manipulating dialogue to convince the audience that there is more to this peasant girl than meets the eye.

While the sharp script delivered by two expressive actors kept me engaged, I spent the latter half of the performance waiting for another piece of the puzzle. When it didn’t come, I couldn’t help but feel that I had been left out of a private joke. I exited the theatre wishing I’d been in on it, just like Lady Annabelle listening to some salacious gossip.

Although When He Gets That Way has finished its short season, you can catch other works on the Subiaco Theatre Festival program before it finishes at the end of June. Check out Seesaw’s interviews with Andrew Baker, producer/performer of/in Gutenberg! The Musical, and with Timothy Green and Samantha Nerida, directors of Tissue.

Pictured top: Tarryn Ryan and Lisa Loutitt in ‘When He Gets That Way’.

Carousel
Musical theatre, News, Performing arts, Reviews

The roundabout course of love

Review: Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, Carousel ·
Regal Theatre, 16 June ·
Review by Leon Levy ·

In 1909 Hungarian writer Ferenc Molnár’s play Liliom was withdrawn after a short run in Budapest. In 1943 Rogers and Hammerstein, in their first collaboration, wrote the musical Oklahoma! to unprecedented acclaim. Such is some of the unlikely background to the composition of Carousel: on the one hand a seemingly-failed Hungarian play with its uncongenial social and political background and gloomy storyline, and the refusal of the playwright to allow even Puccini to set it for the operatic stage; and, on the other hand, the unlikelihood that the American partnership of composer and lyricist could possibly find in this joyless play a successor to the widely acclaimed Oklahoma!. Indeed, Samuel Goldwyn advised that Rogers simply shoot himself in order to avoid the inevitable humiliating failure.

But fate took an altogether unexpected course: after World War I, Liliom was successfully remounted in Budapest and later New York. Then in 1943, searching for material for a follow-up to Oklahoma!, Liliom was suggested to a sceptical Rogers and Hammerstein. Meantime Molnár had moved to the US and was so taken with their sympathetic adaptation of the play Green Grow the Lilacs into Oklahoma! that he capitulated, attended Carousel rehearsals enthusiastically and permitted certain modifications to avoid a totally bleak ending.

In this production of Carousel – performed by WAAPA’s second and third year musical theatre students accompanied by the WAAPA orchestra under David King – Sydney-based director John Langley has most effectively repositioned the action in the Vietnam War era and thus side-stepped any unhelpful cutesiness. Even the prologue, with its carnival scene and “The Carousel Waltz”, suggests the joylessness that is to follow and that makes for a satisfyingly consistent prevailing atmosphere.

Carousel
Jason Langley and his large team bring this challenging work to vivid life. Photo: Jon Green.

The main protagonists appear without delay: the loving and trusting Julie Jordan (Amy Fortnum), flattered by the attentions of handsome barker Billy Bigelow (Andrew Coshan), friend Carrie Pipperidge (Jessica Clancy) and jealous carousel owner, the widow Mrs Mullin (Stacey Tomsett) immediately establish themselves, as does the electricity between Julie and Billy. Confident anticipation (Carrie’s “When I Marry Mr Snow”) and uncertainty (Julie’s “If I Loved You”) are beautifully projected by Clancy and Fortnum respectively, and confirm the integration of the vocal and dramatic qualities that reflect and advance the drama throughout the evening. Coshan’s rendition of Billy’s “Soliloquy” on learning that he is to become a father, is another one of many fine moments. As Enoch Snow, Kurt Russo is all moral certainty combined with 1950’s country-boy naivety, making a satisfying contrast to the more conflicted folk around him: later this re-emerges most deliciously when he chances upon his wife describing what was effectively a drag-show that they had, in innocence, attended in New York.

Carousel
Amy Fortnum as Julie Jordan and Andrew Coshan as Billy Bigelow. Photo: Jon Green.

The rare carefree scenes that end Act I and begin Act II (the ensemble in cracking form in “This Was a Real Nice Clambake”) lead to Billy’s descent into disaster, led by the cynical low life, Jigger (Todd Peydo). Act II is marked by tragedy and by Molnár’s potentially unconvincing device of having Billy observe his now teenaged daughter Louise (Alexandra Cornish) from his detention in a heavenly police court and during a brief earthly return. This must have been an unsympathetic development for both composer and lyricist and, indeed,  poses a challenge for cast and audience in 2018. But the WAAPA team bring dramatic strength to these moments, with “You’ll Never Walk Alone” – sung by Elise Muley as Nettie, Julie’s protector – consolidating the prospects for a more hopeful future for Louise.

Working from the narrow confines of the Regal stage, Jason Langley and his large team – cast, choreographer, lighting, set, costume and sound designers, musical director and orchestra – bring this challenging work to vivid life. This is a compelling production in which the spectre of domestic violence is ever-present and where there are all-too-few moments of unalloyed happiness. But it will, without doubt, come to be seen as one of the theatrical highlights of 2018.

Carousel plays the Regal Theatre until June 23.

Pictured top: Alexandra Cornish as Louise Bigelow. Photo: Jon Green.

Carousel
A compelling production. Photo: Jon Green 2018
Andrew Baker and Tyler Jacob Jones
Features, Musical theatre, News, Performing arts

West side stories

Although the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts is home to one of Australia’s most prestigious musical theatre courses, the job opportunities for its graduates have, traditionally, been on the other side of the country. One WAAPA musical theatre graduate is doing his bit to help change that, however. Producer and performer Andrew Baker is staging musicals in Perth under the name Western Sky Theatre. Seesaw’s Nina Levy spoke to Baker to find out more about Western Sky and its next production, Gutenberg! The Musical.

Andrew Baker

Nina Levy: Tell us about the path that led you to forming Western Sky Theatre…
Andrew Baker: My background is in musical theatre performance. I trained at WAAPA in the BA course there and then followed the well-worn path over East. I had a great time over there working ever-so-occasionally in professional theatre, but got a bit disillusioned and went back to my old career as a lawyer. Since returning home to WA, I’ve found my way back into working in the arts sector in various roles. My passion for musical theatre has returned and it’s clear to a few of us that there is an audience for quality, smaller scale professional musical theatre in WA. So there’s a bit of a gap in the market between, say, the always great work that WAAPA does in presenting a range of new and classic shows, and the big touring productions. There actually aren’t many opportunities for WA raised or trained musical theatre performers to work on their craft in Perth. So that’s how Western Sky came about. But it’s early days.

NL: When did you found Western Sky Theatre? And what is its raison d’être?
AB: Western Sky is pretty new. Our first musical was the gorgeous Australian piece Once We Lived Here, which we did at the Blue Room Theatre last year. It won two Blue Room Theatre awards and I think broke the Blue Room box office record.

The idea at the heart of Western Sky is to give people who are from WA or who may have trained at WAAPA (and so have a WA connection) a reason to come home to Perth and perform in a well-produced small-scale musical (and hopefully get paid). In Once We Lived Here, for instance, three of the five cast members came home from the East to do the show, and all five had done undergrad. musical theatre degrees (four at WAAPA, one from Lasalle, Singapore). It’s about people getting a chance to do what they were trained to do, in front of their home audience.

NL: Gutenberg! The Musical made its Perth debut back in 2016 and is returning this month. For those who missed it the first time around, tell us a bit about the show…
AB: Gutenberg is a rollercoaster ride of laughs. It’s about two dreamers, Bud and Doug, who have written a musical about the inventor of the printing press, Johann Gutenberg. They are presenting it as a backers’ audition, where they show it to a room full of Broadway producers in the hope someone in the room will take it to Broadway. They’ve written what they think is a big, splashy, epic musical that is serious. You’ll have to come and see if they get it to Broadway or not.

NL: The Perth indie theatre sector is (usually) very much about presenting locally written work… what made you choose to buck the trend and present Gutenberg! The Musical?
AB: The presentation of locally written work is vital and there are some excellent writers in Perth creating original musicals (my co-star in Gutenberg, Tyler Jacob Jones, is one such artist who is doing awesome work). In fact there is a big conversation going on at the moment about original Australian musicals. It’s a hot topic over East. But I feel that the original works space is pretty well looked after in Perth so our focus is producing shows that artists and audiences already know and love, and to bring them to new audiences in a new way. However, we’re open to all excellent musical theatre (especially when a lot of new work is written with small spaces and budgets in mind!).

NL: And what made you decide to give this production another outing?
AB: It was just so much fun the first time around but we performed it in a less than ideal space. We want to do the show in a real theatre space now! It’s also a big honour to be asked to be a part of the Subiaco Theatre Festival with the best of Perth’s independent producers and theatre artists.

NL: You act in this show, as well as producing it… what are the pros and cons of being both producer and performer?
AB: There are certainly times when I need to step away from marketing and other producing duties to make sure I’m giving my performance the time it needs. This is a really challenging show and it takes a lot of focus. So it’s about finding a good team, time management and prioritising well.

NL: After Gutenberg, what’s next for Western Sky Theatre?
AB: One of the important things we want to be mindful of is to take our time – to grow a culture around the company and to find a tribe of like-minded people over the first few years. We’re focusing on achievable, small shows and doing them really well! We have the next show in mind. And we’re chatting to people. It’s exciting!

Catch Gutenberg! The Musical at Subiaco Arts Centre, as part of Subiaco Theatre Festival, 27-30 June.

Pictured top: Andrew Baker and Tyler Jacob Jones in ‘Gutenberg! The Musical’.

Georgina Cramond
Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

Through the lens of anxiety

Review: Ribs, Interrupting a Crisis ·
Subiaco Arts Centre, 13 June ·
Review by Jenny Scott ·

Written and performed by Georgina Cramond, who sings under the stage name Ribs, Interrupting a Crisis is an engaging and earnest one-woman show, pairing heartfelt folk-pop songs with unflinching personal stories about managing mental health. Directed by Finn O’Branagáin, Interrupting a Crisis was first presented as part of the Blue Room Theatre’s development season last year, and saw Cramond win the 2017 Performing Arts WA “Best Newcomer” award.

In a deeply honest performance, Cramond explores her musical career as an emerging singer-songwriter through the lens of her struggles with anxiety. She starts at the very beginning – her first panic attack and, later, the first song she ever wrote.

Cramond is brave in her autobiographical openness, sharing the thoughts that appear in her moments of spiralling panic and the phrases (both damaging and reaffirming) that repeat in her head. She re-enacts moments of vulnerability with humour and sincerity, performing as herself hunched over a bathroom sink, giving fake thumbs up to her co-workers, and trying to explain her newfound anxiety to her mother.

Georgina Cramond
Since it’s estimated that three million Australians are living with anxiety or depression, Cramond’s experiences will feel all too familiar for many. Photo: David Cox.

There is an admirable frankness to her storytelling, and since it’s estimated that three million Australians are living with anxiety or depression, her experiences will feel all too familiar for many.

Alongside her stories of mental health hardship, Cramond takes us on a simultaneous journey through her progress as a musical performer. Prompted by her first therapy session, she returns to her childhood love of singing, experimenting with an old keyboard before taking a songwriting class and eventually performing in public. She punctuates her monologues with catchy original songs, which are sung live on stage with conviction (and are also available on Bandcamp).

This confessional show is a testament to the cathartic potential of songwriting, which Cramond has used to gain a sense of purpose and power over her fears. Importantly, she also reminds us that recovery is not linear, and that mental health issues don’t necessarily originate from a traumatic past. Presenting her story with unwavering honesty, Cramond’s Interrupting a Crisis plays a role in de-stigmatising mental health struggles, and will hopefully inspire others to talk (if not sing).

Interrupting a Crisis runs until 16 June 2018.

Pictured top is Georgina Cramond in ‘Interrupting a Crisis’. Photo: David Cox.

Georgina Cramond
Interrupting a Crisis is an engaging and earnest show, pairing heartfelt folk-pop songs with unflinching personal stories about managing mental health. Photo: David Cox.