News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

Perfectly pitched

Spare Parts Puppet Theatre: The Night Zoo ·
Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, 22 September ·
Review by Rosalind Appleby ·

High in an apartment block a lonely girl sits gazing at the stars. On the streets below traffic buzzes by and a stray dog wanders past.

The opening scene of Spare Parts Puppet Theatre’s latest children’s show is constructed from bits of wood, foam and fabric, and the cars are being pushed along by two actors. But the emotions are genuine and so is the response from the audience (mostly children under eight) who interject and laugh uproariously throughout the 60 minute show.

The Night Zoo is written and directed by Michael Barlow and follows the journey of Jamie, who isn’t allowed a pet in her apartment and instead dreams about making friends with zoo animals. It’s a more light-hearted production than last season’s The Farmer’s Daughter, chock-full of colourful puppets and snappy banter, perfectly pitched for kids.

Jamie’s visit to the zoo provides opportunity for plenty of creativity. Puppet-maker Iona McAuley’s work has stood the test of time (the show premiered back in 2009 and this is its fifth revival) and her collection of animals are wonderfully characterised by Lee Buddle’s pre-recorded Dixieland jazz score. A slinky, muted trumpet solo accompanies the thorny devils, a honking baritone saxophone heralds the waddling penguin and the shaggy orangutan struts around to four-bar blues.

A elephant puppet strutting the stage
The elephant required the puppeteer to wear a huge head and ears, operate the trunk with a pulley and stomp around in two enormous boots

The entire show – animals, narrators, Jamie’s character, set changes – was performed by the remarkably versatile Kylie Bywaters and Isaac Diamond, whose playful antics kept the audience enthralled.

Bywaters and Diamond transitioned smoothly from commentators to puppeteers and their dexterity made the animals seem so much more than just a mask or a toy on a pole. The elephant required the puppeteer to wear a huge head and ears, operate the trunk with a pulley and stomp around in two enormous boots. The elephant poo was the finishing touch, two hessian lumps deposited inelegantly as the elephant exited the stage. The children in the audience couldn’t be more delighted as the two narrators poked and tossed the lumps with great histrionics.

My children declared the dog to be their favourite. His mournful eyes and joyfully quivering tail stole their heart and Jamie’s when he bounded across the stage on the end of two sticks. We were all delighted when Jamie was allowed to take him home. It was a predictable ending but the beauty of this show is its touching simplicity and playful ingenuity. It’s a magic formula that could well inspire a holiday of dress-ups and box-collage splendour.

The Night Zoo  is 10am and 1pm daily until 6th October. Recommended for ages 5+ but 3+ would also enjoy this show.

Read a review of this show by one of Seesaw’s junior critics, Isabel (age 8), here.

Pictured top: Isaac Diamond and Kylie Bywaters transition smoothly from commentators to puppeteers.

An elephant puppet and a girl puppet being operated by a person.
News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

A magical menagerie

Junior review: Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, The Night Zoo ·
Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, 19 September ·
Review by Isabel Greentree, age 8 ·

The show was called The Night Zoo by Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, directed by Michael Barlow. It was about a girl called Jamie who desperately wanted a pet as a friend but she lived in a busy city in a tall apartment block. Her dreams bring her to the zoo where she meets all sorts of friendly animals.

All sorts of friendly animals: Jamie and the orangutan.

There were meerkats, water birds, thorny devil lizards, a giraffe, an emperor penguin, an orangutan and an elephant. At first the animals completely ignore her, but later the animals come back and try to play with her. When they come back, the emperor penguin does some ridiculous dance moves with his flippers to try and wake Jamie up. When Jamie finally wakes up at the park, the animals each give her a ride or they dance with her.

At the start, the performers (Kylie Bywaters and Isaac Diamond) goofed around on the stage and teased each other. The puppets were amazing and funny. The performers moved with the puppets and they made them look so realistic. I loved how the setting always changed and the building could swing around and become a tree. The animations projected at the top of the stage showed the animals going through the trees after they had walked off the stage.

The music was very entertaining and quite loud. It made me feel like dancing with the animals too.

It was hard to choose my favourite part of the play because it was all so good. Some of the best bits were the meerkats fighting over a treat, the water bird showing off, the penguin trying to wake Jamie, the graceful giraffe, the goofy orangutan and the ginormous elephant. In the end, Jamie finds a true friend to stay with her.

This was a spectacular play which all children will enjoy. Go and see it while you can!

The Night Zoo plays Spare Parts Puppet Theatre in Fremantle until October 6.

Pictured top: Jamie (operated by performer Kylie Bywaters) and the ginormous elephant (Isaac Diamond) in “The Night Zoo”. Below: The goofy orangutan.

A dancing gorilla puppet

tennis court with three "players"
News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

Game, set and match

Review: Fugue, Court My Crotch ·
Blue Room Theatre ·
Review by David Zampatti ·

The young – and I suspect fast rising – writer and director James McMillan’s Court My Crotch is wild, savage, and will take some beating as the most memorable production of the Blue Room’s 2018 seasons.

The court of the title is of the tennis variety, the crotches are unambiguous, and the action, appropriately enough, is staged inside a green-floored, marked-up chain-link box. (Sadly, no set designer is credited, but its impressive construction was undertaken by the well-known dinosaur actor and T-shirt deviser Paul Grabovac.)

The action is as fast, furious, sweaty and grunty as any Grand Slam final, and what emerges from it is a wide-ranging look at sport, society and sexuality of surprising accuracy and topicality.

Woman striking a pose in white top and wide legged pants, on a tennis court
Morgan Owen is outstandingly arch… and she can hold a tune. Photo: Marshall Stay.

There’s lots of reasons why Court My Crotch might fail; it’s quite long (at 85 minutes, with no interval, it’s a marathon by Blue Room standards) and looks and plays like a skit, so the danger of it running out of narrative puff is very real.

But, while it’s fair to say that it doesn’t all work (how could it?), the show moves so fast and so far that its flaws are trampled underfoot.

Part of its charm is that, for all its Twenty-Teens gloss, Court My Crotch often feels surprisingly old-fashioned, very like a 1970’s uni revue in its uninhibited energy and earnest allegorism. Not, I hasten to add, that there’s anything wrong with that.

There’s great strength in its staging. McMillan does a fine job keeping its pace and intensity in lockstep with the narrative, and George Ashforth’s lighting and, especially, Alex + Yell’s (Aleksandra and Jelena Rnjak’s) sound design is high impact and high quality.

It’s a great platform for the cast, and they are outstanding. David Mitchell (not the David Mitchell) is lithe, athletic and distinct as the sportsman in this battle of sex and love.

His lover and opponent, the drag queen Ash Straylia, is a powerful presence, whether she is upbraiding audience members (including a suitable chastened reviewer) or showing off her moves and moods.

Mitchell and Straylia work impeccably together and against each other, verbally and physically (much credit to “Assistant” Movement Director Nicole Harvey).

Between them, on the umpire’s chair, Morgan Owen is outstandingly arch, cajoling her players and delivering judgement on their performance. Owen is blessed with a geometric mouth she can shape into rectangles, oblongs and circles and a voice to match. She’s hard to ignore, and a lot of laughs

She can also hold a tune. Her take on Patti Smith’s magnum opus “Birdland” (abridged but, happily, not truncated) stops this runaway train of a show dead in its tracks for a good six minutes.

And that’s an impressive achievement, in a production that has many of them.

Court my Crotch plays the Blue Room Theatre until October 6.

Pictured top: David Mitchell, Ash Straylia and Morgan Owen, the outstanding cast of “Court my Crotch”. Photo: Marshall Stay.

Calendar, November 18, Performing arts, Theatre

Theatre: SolOthello

20 – 24 November @ Subiaco Arts Centre ·
Presented by Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company and Te Rehia (NZ)·

A bold and humorous Maori twist on the classic tragedy in which Te Reo, original prose, and contemporary English come together.

Using traditional Maori masks (Te Mata Kokako o Rehia), this solo interpretation of Othello puts the spotlight on the characters Iago, Rodrigo, Othello and Desdemona, and places them into the context of a war between tribes in pre-colonial New Zealand.

Our adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic Othello places the tale within a Te Ao Maori context and pares back the story to focus on three aspects; character, the core story line driven by the characters very human motivations of revenge and deception and on finding the humour in this tragedy.  We place the spotlight on the characters of Iago, Rodrigo, Othello and Desdemona who are explored physically through the Māori performance mask form Te Mata Kōkako o Rēhia. In this adaptation the war setting is maintained as the backdrop for the story and is transposed onto a battle between two far flung iwi in a timeless Aotearoa.

We bring together four specific “voices” to tell this tale; The original prose which is the language of the maskless outsider Othello, te reo Māori interspersed throughout, a quintessential colloquial Māori male voice particularly through Iago and finally Regan’s own voice of the performer, his comedic improvisation engages audience in the mechanics of the storytelling, bringing the audience on the journey and making Shakespeare’s work accessible and engaging for all.

More info:

A Clockwork Orange
Calendar, November 18, October 18, Performing arts, Theatre

Theatre: A Clockwork Orange

17 Oct – 2 Nov @ Broken Hill Hotel ·
Presented by Life on Hold Productions ·

The classic Anthony Burgess novel A Clockwork Orange comes to life at the Broken Hill Hotel this October, exploring the nature of man’s free will.

Presented by Life on Hold Productions, the adaptation is the brainchild of director Sarah Christiner who set up the production company, co-wrote the script (with Connor Carlyle) and plays the main role of adult Alex, who narrates the show as he looks back on his past. But if that commitment wasn’t enough, Christiner has also got herself a permanent tattoo in honour of the production – she now sports “6655321” on the back of her neck, the number Alex is assigned as a prison inmate.

A Clockwork Orange chronicles the experience of Alex DeLarge (played by Carlyle), a young man enjoying a debauched life until he gets his comeuppance and is rehabilitated by severe conditioning.After treatment, Alex can no longer choose his actions and is prohibited from performing violent acts but also from enjoying basic human pleasures.

“If you take away a man’s right to choose his actions, do you take away his humanity?” Christiner said. “The story has often been misconstrued as being about violence in youth culture but Burgess was simply using hyperbole to illustrate his point.”

Christiner said some people may be expecting to see the film version on stage – but this version is more in keeping with the novel.

“While we are incorporating some of the iconic imagery from Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation, his film did not tell the whole story and was not well-received by Anthony Burgess. The stage adaptation already in existence is also very different to what we’ve created. I can only pray that audiences come in with an open mind – our telling is faithful to the original work.”

Involved in theatre since 2003, Christiner has performed in a plethora of productions and has also done extensive tech work and stage-managing, recently extending her love of the performing arts to directing and setting up her own theatre company.

“For the past few years, I’ve been directing productions under the auspices of various theatres,” she said. “These have been great learning experiences and gave me the confidence to set up my own independent company, with the goal of producing productions I’m passionate about – without having to bend to anyone else rules. Friends and I have discussed the potential of bringing A Clockwork Orange alive on stage for nearly a decade. Burgess’ work has resonated with me since I was about 14 and being able to bring the story to life with such a strong team is not something teenage me would ever have imagined. This production, not just as my company’s debut but also as a story to tell, means an awful lot to me.”

A Clockwork Orange plays at 7.30pm October 17, 18, 19, 20, 24, 25, 26, 27, November 1 and 2. Tickets are $25, $20 concession – book at

Please note: the play is strictly 18+ and features graphic content, violence, drug and sexual references, nudity and strobe lighting.

The Broken Hill Hotel is at 314 Albany Highway, Victoria Park.

More info:

Pictured: The droogs Alex (Connor Carlyle, left), Peter (Charlie Young), Georgie (David Heder) and Dim (Josh Harrris) with Sarah Christiner (at back, second from left) as adult Alex. Picture: Blake Hughes
























































































The Inconsequential Lives of Little Fish
Calendar, Performing arts, September 18, Theatre

Theatre: The Inconsequential Lives of Little Fish

4-22 September @ The Blue Room Theatre ·
Presented by Frieda, Sam and Friends ·

A fisherman catches himself a wife, and so begins this charming love story. The Inconsequential Lives of Little Fish is an unlikely romance set in a world filled with corruption and greed.

With two mouths to feed and another on the way, our fisherman takes a job at the helm of a delivery boat headed towards the big city. On the journey a storm wrecks the boat and leaves our couple with an enormous debt. They are conned into bonded labour – the fisherman is trafficked and his wife is put to work in a fish processing factory.

Written by Malcolm Robertson Foundation award recipient Frieda Lee (All His Beloved Children), this is a heartfelt two hander with a dark twist.

4 – 8 September 8:30pm
11 – 15 September 7:00pm
18 – 22 September 8:30

More info:

Images by Susie Blachford

Group hug
Features, News, Performing arts, Theatre

Only connect

Does technology connect us? Or does it push us further apart? That’s a question that Mandurah’s youth performing arts company Riptide will be asking in The 1’s the 0’s and Everything in Between. Nina Levy caught up with artistic director Katt Osborne, to learn more about this timely new work.

Recently I deleted the Facebook app on my phone. Although the moment of deletion was impulsive (close to midnight, mid-scroll), for some months prior I had been concerned about both the amount of time I was spending on the app, and the fact that the ratio of enjoyment to anxiety experienced whilst “using” seemed to be tipping in favour of the latter.

In theory, I’d like to delete my social media accounts altogether… but there’s no way I will. Facebook, in particular, is central to both my professional and social life. I’m not alone in this, nor in experiencing newsfeed-induced anxiety. Social media is a double-edged sword.

It’s this paradox that is at the centre of The 1’s, the 0’s, and Everything in Between, a new play from Mandurah Performing Arts Centre’s youth company Riptide, that’s been co-commissioned with The Australian Theatre for Young People.  Written by local playwright Chris Isaacs and directed by the company’s artistic director Katt Osborne, the work explores the effects of digital communication and conversation on our relationships.

1’s and 0’s is a play about connection and disconnection through the use of technology,” explains Osborne. “But it’s not about technology, it’s more about ways humans communicate and seek those connections, and how that has changed over time; and how the internet and devices can bring us closer together, but maybe sometimes that doesn’t make us feel close, and what that means for human relationships.

“It’s a play that’s written in… I think it’s 47 short scenes,” she continues. “The scenes are little glimpses into people’s lives and how they might be communicating. That has a cumulative effect over the course of the piece, that asks the audience to ponder the questions, what are the connections we’re seeking? How do we get that in modern life and how are we missing out? Chris and I talk about the work more as a piece of music, in a lot of ways. It has three movements and they all have a different tempo. A lot of it is about the rhythm.”

That episodic structure makes the work relatively abstract, Osborne reflects. “Our challenge is how to pull that all together with a satisfying through-line for the audience. It’s ambitious… and I think it will pay off.”

‘The script is very open and that’s been exciting for me, as director, and for the performers, because we have a lot of room to make it into what we want.’ Katt Osborne (right), rehearsing with Riptide company members Monique Tibbott and Harrison Mitchell. Photo: Jamie Breen.

While the script is written by Isaacs, the performers, aged 15-25, have been involved in shaping it. “The script is very open and that’s been exciting for me, as director, and for the performers, because we have a lot of room to make it into what we want,” says Osborne. “The Riptide ensemble feel ownership over it, because they participated in the initial discussions and giving feedback on the script and workshopping it.”

That involvement in the creative process is central to Riptide’s philosophy, says Osborne. “The aim [of the company] is to grow and empower young artists – specifically performance makers and performers in Mandurah – to grow their skills and be exposed to more professional work. We also aim to empower young people to make their own work,” she elaborates. “We do that through a bunch of different ways; in more traditional ways, in terms of masterclasses with experienced artists, but also in less traditional ways, in that all of the work we make is either is co-created by the young company members [in collaboration with experienced artists] or created solely by the young people, with my mentorship.”

And so Riptide is as much about writing and making work as it is about performing, she continues. “I think that’s often the missing link for young people,” she muses. “My training is through theatre making at university, and I remember that being so eye-opening, going from Year 12 into something that was about making a piece into performance. That’s where my passion is, so obviously I’ve brought that into the company. Having some ownership over the thing that you’re performing in, or a part of, is so important in terms of gaining skills, but also in terms of confidence, understanding the world, finding a voice to say what you want to say.”

Young people sitting on a bench
‘The aim of the company is to grow and empower young artists … to grow their skills and be exposed to more professional work and … to make their own work.’ Pictured: Riptide company members in rehearsal. Photo: Jamie Breen.

Those who are familiar with Katt Osborne will know that she has a diverse background in theatre as a maker, director and creative producer. After graduating with a Bachelor of Contemporary Performance from Edith Cowan University in 2007 she founded an independent company called The Duckhouse, which presented work at Perth venues such as The Blue Room Theatre and PICA. After five years that company morphed into The Last Great Hunt, and Osborn became both a core artist of the company and its general manager for three years. She has also worked in opera as a director, and last year worked in the UK as assistant director for Dr Seuss’s The Lorax, at The Old Vic. In addition to directing Riptide, currently she is a Black Swan State Theatre Company Resident artist, and is producing Actéon for West Australian based opera company Lost and Found.

It’s her own experience of working in the performing arts that makes her particularly passionate about exposing her young charges to a variety of theatrical experiences and roles. “Because I do a lot of different things in my practice, I like to show them that there are so many ways that you can be an artist or be involved in the arts or creative activity, and that involvement can be community-based or professional. There are all these different pathways to find the thing that you’re passionate about and do that thing.”

The 1’s, the 0’s, and Everything in Between plays Mandurah Performing Arts Centre, 19-23 September.

Pictured top: Teaghan Lowry (centre) with Harrison Mitchell and Tristen Pateman, rehearsing “The 1’s, the 0’s and Everything in Between”. Photo: Jamie Breen.

News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

First in, best dressed

Review: WAAPA 3rd Year Performance Making Students, “TILT” (Programme One) ·
The Blue Room Theatre ·
Review by David Zampatti ·

The forays by the WAAPA Performance Making course’s graduating class to the Blue Room Theatre for the double-head “Tilt” programme have become an annual highlight.

That’s in part for their own sake – eight short pieces over two seasons with the freedom, expressiveness and self-indulgence (not always a bad thing) that, maybe, will never come again, will always reveal some delights.

It’s also a window into the future; what these young theatre-makers are interested in, and how they deliver it to audiences, will more than likely be the matter and method of the independent stage in time to come.

There’s a very direct pay-off from that – along with a trap for young players. Some of the best (or, more correctly, more substantial) “Tilt” bits have quickly gone on to become fully-fledged productions at the Blue Room, albeit with mixed results.

The problem, the challenge anyway, is converting a 25-30 minute piece into the hour-or-so that alternative theatres, fringe festivals and the like trade in.

Sometimes these short shows are exposed as skits when a longer format calls for more character development and a more sustained narrative. Sometimes they leap that tall building with a single bound.

Last year’s showstopper, The View From the Penthouse, is a case in point. It’s slotted to return, with a longer running time and a shorter title – just Penthouse – at the end of next month in the Blue Room.

From what I saw last year, I’d advise you to crawl over broken glass to see it – but that trap is baited and waiting.

So, to this year’s Tilts.

Courtney Henri and Jordan Valenti’s play-within-a-play about street performers, a flying whale and surface tension, Fluke, was deftly managed and sweet, without quite nailing its allegory or compelling our attention.

Evelyn Snook, in her Work in Progress, certainly does. A small, sad portrait of a girl battling depression and inertia (“Sometimes it’s okay if the only thing you do today is breathe”), it’s beautifully written and winningly performed.

A girl jumping in the air while holding the hand of a man dressed all in black
Striking: Courtney Henri and Marshall Stay in ‘Girl & Thing’. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography

The evening’s closer, and its most striking performance, was Girl & Thing, a kinetic, sometimes frightening dance piece devised and performed by the busy Courtney Henri and Marshall Stay, who also delivered an impressive video and sound design (with Ash Lazenby). Henri is an extraordinary sight, diminutive, a shock of hair and a frenzy of movement, sometimes defying your senses to keep up with her. I’m tempted to wonder whether Henri and Stay always knew what they were saying in Girl & Thing, but if the language they used to say it was sometimes incomprehensible, the effect was certainly mesmerising.

I’m cheating. The best was first, not last, but I’ve saved it anyway.

Cookies and Cream (or, as its writer Zachary Sheridan and director Amelia Burke would have it, “however the diddly is done”) is everything you could want in forty minutes of alt-theatre. Smart, screamingly funny, did-she-really-SAY-that-ish, snappy, crackly and poppy, it’s the antidote to whatever ails you.

And, among the terrific cast of Sheridan, Christopher Moro and Tamara Creasey, a star is born in Elise Wilson – anyone who loves the work of The Last Great Hunt’s fabulous Arielle Gray is gong to really love this gal.

Cookies and Cream will be back. You can bet on it.

The second programme (which ends this Saturday 8 September) may not have a firecracker like Cookies and Cream, but it’s textually more substantial than the first.

The opener, The Painfully True Story of the Show we Couldn’t Make, devised and performed by Noemie Huttner-Koros, Karina White and Snook is a backstage procedural about, as the title suggests, the difficulty – and even the validity – of nice, young, white folk making theatre about people without their privileges. It’s a good and worthy idea, blunted by an overabundance of long, meaningful looks and some lengthy, problematic recorded segments that had plenty of verbatim but not enough theatre.

pillow fight
Inspired pillows in ‘Dad’. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography

Dad is Isaac Powell, Jarryd Prain and Stay’s emotional paean to those strange creatures that fathered us. It’s, perhaps, a little repetitive, but it sneaks up on you, building bit by bit to a touching, insightful kind of father-son catharsis – and a pillow fight. It’s performed with energy and commitment and should both extend and tighten up nicely if it goes around again some time. The pillows are inspired.

Clare Testoni has made quite a splash over recent times with her combination of shadow puppetry and fairy tale-telling, and it’s a lode that Chloe-Jean Vincent, co-creator Madeleine McKeown and co-writer Valenti mine effectively in Where the Woodsman Cannot Find You. Working with the fairytales The Big Bad Wolf, Little Red Riding Hood and Jack and the Beanstalk, Vincent and fellow performers Henri and Stay deliver a multi-media take on the stories, and the head of the girl imagining them, that is tightly-drawn, funny and sometimes genuinely scary.

Who knew the story of Ada – Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace – the only legitimate child of Lord Byron and, some claim, the writer of the first computer programme? Wikipedia, naturally, the writer and director Huttner-Koros, clearly, and now all of us who saw her smartly staged and delightfully composed little bioplay about this extraordinary (Queen) Victorian woman. Played with corseted good grace by McKeown, well supported by Snook, Burke, Creasey and White, Ada is another Tilt that could easily re-emerge as a fully realised-piece in a Spiegeltent near you sometime soon.

Although Programe One’s season has finished,  you can catch the “TILT” Programme Two at the Blue Room Theatre, 5-8 September.

Pictured top: The terrific cast of ‘Cookies and Cream’, L-R, Zachary Sheridan, Tamara Creasey, Christopher Moro and Elise Wilson. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.

This review appears on “From the Turnstiles” and is published on Seesaw with the kind permission of David Zampatti.

woman at a blackboard
‘Ada’ is another Tilt that could easily re-emerge as a fully realised-piece in a Spiegeltent near you sometime soon. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.
Calendar, December 18, Performing arts, Theatre


14-15 December @ Subiaco Arts Centre ·
Presented by World Sharing ·


A saucy summer holiday at Lake Geneva turned rapidly into a gothic horror story as Frankenstein’s monster took his first ungainly steps onto the page. Mary Shelley sought to impress her literary idols with a grisly ghost story but, instead, introduced the world to its first and most enduring bogey man.

What possessed Mary Shelley to conceive of such a creature? To what extent did the men in her life provide a template? Are monsters born? Or are they created? Is there a monster inside us all?

Frankenstein’s monster has captivated the world for 200 years. He resides permanently in the darkest recesses of our minds and is frequently to be found on our televisions. He terrifies us, thrills us, and entertains us. His image sells everything from vodka to Nutella, and costume parties are not complete without his presence.

BRAINCHILD is audacious coming of age/creation story told with poignancy and sardonic wit. A gothic romp, stitched together with comedy, contemporary dance, charged with an eccentric performance and set to rollicking narration.

Created and performed by acclaimed dancer/ choreographer/actor/screenwriter Brian Carbee, with original music by Steve Richter.

More info:

Pictured: Brian Carbee (left) & Steve Richter (right).

News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

Astute, insightful and absolutely relevant

Review: WAAPA Third Year Acting, Stuff Happens ·
Roundhouse Theatre, WAAPA ·
Review by David Zampatti ·

There are people eligible to vote in Australian (and US, and UK) elections who were babies when the World Trade Centre towers fell. They, and many others, were not born in 2003, when America and its “Coalition of the Willing” smashed into Baghdad.

There are millions in our countries now who have no direct memory of these events, or the attendant paroxysms that shaped our politics, our worldviews and our lives like no others in the past century.

A revival of David Hare’s 2004 play, Stuff Happens, is valuable for that reason alone. As this exciting production by WAAPA’s graduating acting students led by the visiting American director Gregg Daniel shows, there’s plenty more reasons to revive it – and for you to see it.

Hare calls Stuff Happens a “history play”, and that’s an apt description of a narrative that takes us from the earliest days of the Bush II presidency to the effective collapse of the Blair Government four years later. The characters are the players in the drama of the time – Bush and Blair themselves, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell, the British politicians Jack Straw and Robin Cook, Jacques Chirac and Saddam Hussein, the weapons inspector Hans Blix – all household names, heroes and villains, saints and monsters. More often the latters.

Hare has drawn from the historical record – interviews, documents, speeches (the title comes from a particularly heartless aside from the then US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld about the carnage in Baghdad after the invasion), and filled in the cracks with astute dramatic invention.

It’s clear, concise (even at approaching three hours) and surprisingly even-handed. There’s a commitment to both sides of the argument that you associate more with a detached historian than an emotionally-charged playwright, and it produces some remarkable insights.

But Hare needn’t worry that his message is lost; the atrocious facts of the stuff that happened come through razor-sharp and damning; Hare shouts his message at us, but hardly ever raises his voice in the process; when he does, in impassioned soliloquys from a journalist, a Palestinian academic and Iraqi exile, the intrusion, though entirely legitimate, is as jarring as it should be.

This is also a perfect WAAPA play; each of the seventeen cast members (who else but WAAPA could even dream of mounting a play with such a number?) get their moment, and some of the cameos are star turns in their own right. Jessie Lancaster turning the urbane (and male) French diplomat Dominique De Villepin into a supercharged coquette is only the most outrageously striking example.

The physical ensemble work, coached by Sam Chester, provides exemplary punctuation to the dialogue and there’s some evidence of the house style of the Last Great Hunt, courtesy of Daniel’s dramaturgical assistant Chris Isaacs, throughout.
The contribution of dialect coaches is often overlooked, but it’s been a focus of WAAPA’s training since its inception. Luzita Fereday does a terrific job bringing a range of accents – some comic, some almost frighteningly authentic – to a huge roll-call of characters.

Her most impressive work is with the characters at the centre of the drama – Bush (Jarryd Dobson), Blair (Shannon Ryan – the show’s casting is gender agnostic), Powell (James Thomasson), Rice (Teresa Moore), Cheney (Adam Marks) and Rumsfeld (Michael Cameron). They all give believable, nuanced performances, in particular Dobson, whose portrayal of the often-ridiculed “Dubblya” is a revelation.

It helps that Dobson is a passing approximation of Bush in looks, and he captures perfectly Hare’s take on the president; courteous to a fault, ready to listen to all sides, diplomatic when he can and ruthless when he must. No fool. It’s an eye-opening characterisation, and a compelling performance.

And it emphasises how relevant the play is. If you think that Donald Trump is a novel phenomenon – Stuff Happens will make you think again!

Stuff Happens closes 30 August.

Pictured top and below: the cast of “Stuff Happens”. Photos: Jon Green.

group of people around a desk