Review: Black Swan State Theatre Company, You Know We Belong Together ·
Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre of WA, 21 March ·
Review by Nina Levy ·
From the moment she welcomes us to the theatre, performer and writer Julia Hales has us in the palm of her hand. This is the encore season of her work You Know We Belong Together, created with director Clare Watson and writer and associate director Finn O’Branagáin. A co-production by Black Swan State Theatre Company, Perth Festival and Dadaa, You Know We Belong Together had its first outing at last year’s Perth Festival. In recognition, no doubt, of the success of the 2018 iteration, the show has moved upstairs into the Heath Ledger Theatre in 2019, with a run three times the length of the original.
Described in the programme as a “live documentary”, You Know We Belong Together is based around a series of vignettes comprised of monologues, filmed interviews, sketches and chats. With Hales at it centre, the work is driven by her dreams: to find love, and to be on the long-running television show Home and Away.
But there’s more to this show than personal aspirations. You Know We Belong Together is a passionate call for inclusivity for people with disability, in particular on stage and screen. A woman with Down syndrome, Hales gives us an insight into her life and the lives of some of her friends with Down syndrome. We meet dancer Lauren Marchbank, who moves with loose-limbed release; Joshua Bott, whose dance-style is all about funk; Tina Fielding, a performer and palm-reader who’s always up for a laugh; the gentle Patrick Carter, whose talents lie in both performing and visual arts; and Mark and Melissa Junor, who met at a dance class and have been happily married for almost 19 years.
And then there’s Hales, who manages the show with warmth, humour and sensitivity, whether interviewing her friends about love or taking us on a guided tour of her life. Though she keeps us giggling with her references to Summer Bay and its residents (cleverly supported by Tyler Hill’s set design), she doesn’t shy away from the hard stuff. We learn of her struggles, as a young adult, to come to terms with the fact that she is a person with Down syndrome, and her ongoing grief for her late mother. It’s honest, poignant and, most importantly, relatable.
And so when she asks why we don’t see people with Down syndrome on shows like Home and Away, the injustice of this absence is striking. Why, indeed?
Together with the creative team and cast, Hales, O’Branagáin and Watson have brought to the stage an engaging work that quietly but firmly lets us know, it’s time for change.
Review: Romeo and Juliet, WAAPA 3rd year Acting directed by Michael Jenn ·
Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre of WA, 16 March ·
Review by David Zampatti ·
I suffer from an unfortunate condition called Veronaphobia, brought on by a couple of productions of Romeo and Juliet so excruciating that good manners and the advice of my lawyer constrain me from identifying, other than to say that at the first the urge to flee at interval nearly overcame me, and at the second it did.
There’s a reason for the malady. Romeo and Juliet, while it is an extravagant achievement of the English language, can be a rose that smells too sweet.
Shakespeare (who, remember, was likely only 30 and six years into his career) had just discovered his mastery, and hurled it at everything he did with little restraint. For this reason his great early plays, Richard III and A Midsummer Night’s Dream among them, need to be handled with great control and command.
Lack either, and things can get very ugly very quickly.
Happily this production, performed by WAAPA’s third year Acting students, directed by the visiting British actor and director Michael Jenn, is an antidote to what ails me.
He navigates his ill-fated lovers and their squabbling families towards the West Side Story point of the compass, without working that relocation too hard (I’m okay for a character to cross the stage on a Vespa, and street knives actually work better than rapiers in Andy Fraser’s fight scenes). Kara Rousseau’s set in the Studio Underground is timeless and functional; the balcony is a platform on scaffolding that doubles as the upper levels of villas and palaces above Verona’s dangerous streets.
Most importantly, Jenn allows his young actors to attempt Shakespeare’s lyrical text (only fifteen per cent of the play’s lines are in prose) with a natural, colloquial rhythm, and this gives it clarity and accessibility.
Even Shakespeare’s most audacious conceit, the sonnet “If I profane with my unworthy hand” injected into Romeo and Juliet’s love-making, is natural and unforced, while maintaining its aching beauty.
The supporting cast give strong, distinctive performances: in particular Bryn Chapman Parish and Saskia Archer are perfectly drawn as the grasping daughter-peddling Capulets, Mercutio is given a sassy humour not always afforded Tybalt’s pincushion by Peter Thurnwald, and Ruby Maishman’s Friar Lawrence brings much more than the traditional hapless meddler in the affairs of the heart.
Jonathan Lagudi is a tall, dark and handsome Romeo, well suited to love and be loved, but the play is always Juliet’s, the “splendid” Juliet as Harold Bloom described her, the prototype of all Shakespeare’s great heroines, his too-young Rosalind-in-waiting, the girl whose bounty is as boundless and deep as the sea.
Poppy Lynch is a beautiful Juliet, sensible, determined and ready for anything love and death can bestow on, and take from, her. There’s nothing ethereal about her Juliet, and she acts her age (something too often overlooked).
It’s a fine performance that caps a fine production.
24 – 27 April @ The State Theatre Centre of Western Australia ·
Presented by CDP ·
David Walliams’ third novel for young audiences Billionaire Boy is a number one UK bestseller. In 2019, CDP Theatre Producers (the team behind The 13-, 26-, 52-, 78- and 91-Storey Treehouses, The Gruffalo and David Walliams’ Mr Stink) are proud to bring the beloved novel to life on stage! Coming to the State Theatre Centre of Western Australia this April, it’s perfect for children aged 6-12 – and their adults!
Since 2008 David Walliams has taken the children’s literary world by storm; his bestselling novels have been translated into over forty languages and have sold over ten million copies in the UK alone. Walliams’ books have achieved unprecedented critical acclaim and countless broadsheet reviewers have compared him to his all-time hero, Roald Dahl.
Twelve year old Joe has everything a boy could ever want, from a golden underwater Ferrari to his very own cinema. Joe and his Dad have more money than you could imagine, but what Joe really needs is a friend. When Joe arrives at his new school, life really gets tough. Facing the school bully, his Dad’s new girlfriend and the world’s worst school canteen, Joe is about to learn that money might buy you a lot in Raj’s shop, but it can’t buy you everything.
Don’t miss this original Australian adaptation with songs, laughs and yes, that cat sick and sweet potato mash from the canteen…
A talented cast of five bring the Billionaire Boy to the stage, exploring important social issues such as bullying, relationships and self-esteem through enjoyable, accessible comedy and loveable characters and lots of laughs.
“Billionaire Boy is a poignant tale about a boy who has everything. Everything except a friend. It’s a riches to rags story that will warm your heart. Filled with humour and soul, this is not a show you want to miss!” – Maryam Master (Playwright)
24 April at 10am & 12pm
25 April at 11am & 1pm
26 April at 10am & 12pm
27 April at 3pm & 5pm
23 – 28 April @ The State Theatre Centre of Western Australia ·
Presented by CDP ·
Room on the Broom live on stage returns to the State Theatre Centre of Western Australia, from 23-28 April. Based on the much-loved picture book by Julia Donaldson & Axel Scheffler and brought to you by the award-winning team behind The Gruffalo, The Gruffalo’s Child and The 13, 26, 52, 78 & 91-Storey Treehouses, the Witch and her animal friends are flying in to the State Theatre Centre of Western Australia following sold-out seasons across the country during 2016 and 2017.
The witch and her cat are flying happily on their broomstick – until a stormy wind blows away the witch’s hat, bow and wand. A helpful dog, bird and frog find the witch’s lost things, and they all hop on the broom for a ride. But this broomstick’s not meant for five and – CRACK – the broom snaps in two! When a hungry dragon appears, who will save the poor witch? And will there ever be room on the broom for everyone?
Room on the Broom brings together physical theatre, music and beautiful puppetry to bring this much loved story about friendship, sharing and working together to the stage for children aged 3-8… and their adults!
Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s beloved characters come to life in a production which has received critical acclaim around the world:
“A truly theatrical feast that leaves both adults and children fully entertained. Five stars” The List
“Lively, accomplished production…a rollicking ride” Sydney Morning Herald
23 April 10am & 12pm
24 April 3pm & 5pm
26 April 3pm & 5pm
27 April 10am & 12pm
28 April 10am, 12pm & 3pm
27 Mar – 10 Apr @ Victoria Park Hotel ·
Presented by Life on Hold Productions ·
GEORGE Orwell’s famed novel Animal Farm – a political satire targeting Stalinist Russia – is coming to the Victoria Park Hotel as a staged dramatic reading. Presented by Life on Hold Productions and directed by Sarah Christiner, the adaptation by Nelson Bond is an almost word-for-word faithful re-telling, only skipping parts that don’t add to the story.
When the downtrodden animals of Manor Farm overthrow their master and take over, they imagine a life of freedom and equality. But gradually a cunning, ruthless elite among them, masterminded by two pigs, starts to take control. The other animals learn they are not as equal as they thought – and find themselves trapped as one form of tyranny is replaced by another.
“Orwell described his text as a fable and younger people may just see it as that,” Christiner said. “But it’s rather more of a political allegory that aimed to shock and subvert previous censorship rules from the UK’s Ministry of Information when the book was very much a product of its time that mainly used narration and left out key characters and sub-plots – but the animals are telling their own story here, guided by a narrator.”
The main challenge, according to Christiner, is to make Animal Farm theatrically interesting. “We will be using lighting, sound and audio-visual components to embellish the mood but we also don’t want to use too much tech that it takes away from the words,” she said. “The actors will be relying on their voices and facial expressions to convey up to four characters each and are bringing a lot of depth to the story, so I don’t want to overshadow their performances with music or flashy lights.”
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 Life on Hold Productions. Last year, her company debuted with a production of A Clockwork Orange.
“I read the script for Animal Farm a few years ago and passed it onto AJ Lowe, who plays Snowball and Benjamin,” Christiner said. “He has strong political convictions and loved the script, so he’s been pushing me to stage it ever since. After the success of A Clockwork Orange, I was keen not to have too much of a time-lapse between productions. Technically, this is an easy one to stage and the Victoria Park Hotel is just ideal for this type of show.”
Animal Farm plays at 7.30pm March 27, 29, 30, April 6, 9 and 12, 2pm March 31 and April 7 and 7pm April 3 and 10.
Perth Festival review: Elevator Repair Service, Gatz ⋅
Octagon Theatre, March 1 ⋅
Review by David Zampatti ⋅
It’s impossible to claim that Gatz, Elevator Repair Service’s heroic word-for-word performance of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, is a reaction to the state of America under its current president (after all, the project was conceived under Clinton and first performed under Bush II).
But I doubt if anyone who experienced this demanding, adventurous, beautiful, funny, desperately sad tour de force of theatrical daring and skill during the dying days of this year’s Perth Festival would have failed to feel the sense and personality of Trump reverberating uncannily through it.
ERS performs The Great Gatsby in its entirety, and without a single additional word of dialogue. For the record, the performance of those roughly 50,000 words takes 360 minutes (there are three intervals, one long enough for a meal). According to one ready reckoner, Fitzgerald’s novella (he insisted it was a novel for commercial reasons, complaining that novellas didn’t sell) takes a minute under three hours for the average reader to complete.
There’s little needs saying about the story – it’s a known commodity: the mysterious, obsessed tycoon and the woman he (foolishly but inevitably) loves to his death, and the damage they do, as reported by a decent, ordinary man who fell into their web, ensnared by their charm and his timidity.
It’s hard to believe that performing a novel word for word could work so perfectly on stage, but Gatsby is no typical novel. As Gertrude Stein wrote admiringly to Fitzgerald: “You write naturally in sentences.” T.S. Eliot, for whom compliments did not come easy, was also a fan. He read Gatsby three times, repaying, I think, a compliment Fitzgerald had paid him through the novel’s tone and sensibility – Gatsby may be the great American novel, but it is also its Waste Land.
That natural economy of Fitzgerald’s phrase and structure makes the transition to the spoken word and the stage easy. Whether it’s in the long narrations that Nick Carraway (Scott Shepherd) delivers, or in the dialogue between the book’s characters – Gatsby (Jim Fletcher), Daisy (Annie McNamara) and Tom (Pete Simpson), Jordan (April Matthis), George (Frank Boyd) and Myrtle (Laurena Allan) – Fitzgerald’s language is vivid, easy to grasp and imbued with life.
Let me explain: the world of the play is a humdrum office some time in the late 1980s, judging by the computers and remnant typewriters. One office worker (Shepherd) fills the tedious hours reading The Great Gatsby aloud. Others go about the desultory business of the modern administrative workplace until, unobtrusively at first, they assume the personages of Fitzgerald’s East and West Egg on Long Island and hurtle down to the book’s scandal and its tragedy.
Once the characters are established and the action mounts in the first “section”, it’s an exhilarating ride, with the atmospherics created by Fitzgerald – and amplified and enriched by director John Collins – anticipating much of the best of American literature, cinema and theatre.
When it moves to the Gatsby mansion parties and Jay and Daisy’s reunion, the production becomes a comedy of New York manners worthy of Damon Runyon and Dorothy Parker. As the screws tighten in the Plaza Suite scene – where Gatsby and Tom Buchanan battle for possession of Daisy – there’s a Tennessee Williams shift in mood. And later, when Myrtle Wilson goes under the wheels of Gatsby’s automobile and their battle turns fatal, Gatz reads like James M. Cain.
Finally, we are left with Nick looking out over Long Island Sound at the dark water and the green light, and the voice – its admonition and its premonition – belongs to Fitzgerald alone.
Shepherd is astounding as Nick Carraway. Apart from the enormous feat of remembering almost an entire book (he pretends to be reading it, but that ain’t so) and holding the stage for six hours, his habitation of the character of Nick is complete. You don’t doubt him for a second.
Nor do you doubt the other characters. Fletcher’s Gatsby is imposing, humorous and threatening (he’d be an extraordinary Kerry Packer); McNamara makes Daisy not an alabaster beauty but a woman a man might ache for; and Simpson’s Tom Buchanan is manspread and dangerous. Even the sound designer, Ben Williams, who steps out from his cleverly camouflaged sound desk to play minor characters, is perfect.
But it is the contemporary parallels – Gatsby/Tom Buchanan as precursors to Trump, the inheritance man and cagey outsider; Gatsby’s bootlegger Wolfsheim and Trump’s Russian oligarchs; the racism and the womanising – that make Gatz such a fascinatingly relevant work.
For Gatsby, it was not enough that Daisy loved him; he needed her to have always loved him. It’s his expectation of, and demand for, complete loyalty and possession that destroy him. Perhaps it will destroy this president, too.
The worst thing about them all – the Gatsbys, the Buchanans, the Trumps – is that, as Fitzgerald says, “they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, and let other people clean up the mess they had made”.
And the worst mess they have made – the one they are still making now, from Wall Street to the Oval Office, from sea to shining sea – is the retreat from the promise of the American future: the green light that Gatsby believed in but was too greedy to attain. And so “we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past”.
Two years ago, we marvelled at The Gabriels – another eight-hour American epic, set, coincidentally, in the year leading up to the election of Donald Trump. It remains the best experience I’ve had at the theatre. I would gladly see both plays – The Gabriels followed by Gatz – back to back over 16 hours.
I thank Perth Festival’s departing director, Wendy Martin, for bringing them both here, and congratulate her on a wonderful four years of theatre programming. I’ll have more to say about it later.
Picture Top: (left to right) Scott Shepherd as Nick Carraway, Jim Fletcher as Jay Gatsby, April Matthis as Jordan Baker, Annie McNamara as Daisy Buchanan and Pete Simpson as Tom Buchanan. Photo: Toni Wilkinson.
Perth Festival review: Dickie Beau, Re-Member Me ·
Studio Underground, February 27 ·
Review by Jonathan W. Marshall ·
Near the commencement of Dickie Beau’s Re-Member Me the audience is treated to a silhouette of a man seated in a pose reminiscent of Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker, accompanied by a synchronised voice-over provided by the actor Ian McKellen. McKellen claims blithely that “Anyone can play Hamlet!” before clarifying that Hamlet is such an open theatrical part that it can be easily re-shaped to be about anyone. We are then rapidly treated to an array of distorted Hamlets, now accompanied by the live lip-synching Beau, leaping about and posing while dressed like an extra from the film version of the Village People’s YMCA.
Complete with Max Headroom-style stutters and reboots and a dazzling day-glo disco projection, the combination is deliberately jarring, garish but also stilted. It’s full of light, colour and joyous action, but it is also — like the best drag performance — slightly distanced, or as Susan Sontag used to say of Andy Warhol, affectively flat and hence “camp”.
Although Re-Member Me focusses on a version of Hamlet performed by the late Ian Charleson (best known for Chariots of Fire) it is, in fact, about the gay subculture of London and West End theatre. Beau playing the late Sir John Gielgud bookends the evening, initially with a recording of Gielgud’s incomparable vocal performance of Hamlet, returning to perform a rather tragic late recording of Gielgud discussing how horrible becoming truly old is since all of one’s friends are dead and one knows that one is next. Gielgud was charged in 1953 for “persistently importuning men for immoral purposes”, while Charleson played Hamlet shortly after it had become known to friends and colleagues that he was dying of AIDS. Both Gielgud and Charleson suffered, albeit in different ways, for their sexuality.
Beau sets up a horizontal space running across the back of the stage, which is bounded by partially see-through plastic curtains, as in a hospital. Above this is hung a wide projection screen onto which four versions of Beau’s head are beamed. For much of the production it is these heads, not the “living” actor below who lip-syncs interviews with Charleson’s friends and colleagues such as McKellen, the former director of the Royal National Theatre, a one-time costume assistant and others. Representing that generation of very English thespians who were taught that correct pronunciation and the Queen’s English was the very essence of their trade, these voice-overs themselves sound vaguely unreal and staged. The equally mannered, exaggerated movements of the mouth and face which Beau adopts when seeming to recite this material increases this sense of unreality and distance.
At a crucial point one of the subjects asks if maybe they are all now creating this romantic myth about how this was one of the best Hamlets ever out of nostalgia, and from their retrospective knowledge that this was to be Charleson’s last major role. Having put this forward, the speaker immediately rejects this, insisting it really was one of those once in a lifetime moments in the theatre. As if to prove this, a recording of a critic from The Times reciting a frankly ludicrous, hagiographic review is then played. One is therefore left with a niggling doubt that, tragic though the tale of Charleson’s death may be, the show is something of an act of smoke and mirrors, an attempt to “re-member” something that maybe never was. It is less a deeply affective myth or piece of stage magic than perhaps a rather brutal, deliberately clunky mixtape of memories and incomplete actorly presences — like the lifeless plastic mannequins which Beau sets up below the disembodied heads.
This is therefore a rather more thoughtful and jarring show than it might at first appear, both homage and debunking all in one, and all the more fascinating for this.
Perth Festival review: Barking Gecko Theatre, A Ghost in my Suitcase ⋅
Heath Ledger Theatre, February 26 ⋅
Review by Rosalind Appleby ⋅
The supernatural children’s adventure A Ghost in my Suitcase opened at Perth Festival last night. Playwright Vanessa Bates’ adaption of Gabrielle Wang’s novel had its premiere in Melbourne last year, played Sydney Festival in January and has finally arrived in the home town of its creators Barking Gecko Theatre.
Barking Gecko is renowned for empathic, playful children’s theatre, and now it can add thriller to the catalogue! Directors Ching Ching Ho and Matt Edgerton have captured both the hair-raising adventure and the sensual, otherworldly flavours in Wang’s novel.
When twelve year old Celeste arrives in China her observations of the sounds, images and even the smells (garlic!) she encounters invites us into her experience of otherness. As her journey of self discovery unfolds we meet grandmother Por Por and Ting Ting and discover the family history of ghost hunting.
Quirky ‘journey’ cameos (bicycle riding, a leaking bus, a sampan boat) are interspersed with scary ghost hunting scenes, linked by Celeste’s reflections. Rachel Dease’s sound design sets the tone for each scene; gentle gongs and burbling water contrast with thunderous explosions and a singing voice (Celeste’s) that is darkly edged with distortion.
The white boxes and frames of Zoe Atkinson’s set design are rearranged and stacked to frame the action and provide backdrops for Sohan Ariel Hayes’ stunning video projections. The cliffs and mist of Cloud Island are particularly beautiful.
Some scenes like the ghost under the bed are the stuff of childhood nightmares, lit by Matthew Marshall in spooky reds or with strobe lighting. But they are balanced by humour and provide opportunity to witness Celeste’s gutsy resilience. Of course Wang’s ghosts aren’t just external. The biggest challenges for Celeste are the ghosts of her heritage and her grief, hovering in the background and bringing real weight to the story. With Por Por and Ting Ting at her side these and all the other ghost complaints are successfully resolved.
The most important part for my eight year old companion was the fight scene where Celeste and Ting Ting work together. And we’ll never look at goldfish the same way again!
Alice Keohavong is endearing as Celeste, Amanda Ma is a multifaceted Por Por and Yilin Kong pulls some cool martial arts moves as the aloof Ting Ting. They are supported by John Shrimpton and Frieda Lee in various roles.
13 – 27 April @ Spare Parts Puppet Theatre ·
Presented by Spare Parts Puppet Theatre ·
Blueback has been adapted by Peta Murray from the book by Tim Winton.
Blueback is an evocative story set along the Western Australian coastline. It captures the mystery of the sea and the majesty of an old fish called “Blueback”, and the moment when an inquisitive boy stands up for what he loves and believes in.
One of Tim Winton’s most personal and quintessentially Western Australian stories, Blueback will nourish your heart and the beautiful Tim Winton poetry will resonate with you long after you leave the theatre. This award-winning production is an underwater menagerie of exquisite puppetry and an extraordinary celebration of the Western Australian coastline from one of WA’s most beloved authors.
“When Abel Jackson and Blueback the Groper frolic under the sea, the scene is rhythmic and joyful.” – The West Australian
Duration: 50 mins
Perfect for ages 5 and above
April 13 – 27
10am & 1pm daily
Special 6.30pm performance April 18 & 24
No performances Sundays or public holidays.
Monday, 15 April: 10am (Relaxed show – limited capacity)
Tuesday, 16 April: 10am (Special Nan & Pops Session)
Thursday, 18 April: 6:30pm (Auslan interpretation show & PJ PARTY – tickets $15 for groups of four or more for this session)
Wednesday, 24 April: 1pm (Adopt A Puppet Parent Event)
Special Relaxed show:
Monday 15 April, 10am
Special Auslan interpretation:
Thursday 18 April, 6.30pm
14 – 24 March @ Limelight Theatre, Wanneroo ·
Presented by Limelight Theatre ·
Whether they’re cute, catty and comical or beautiful, bitchy and backstabbing, The Real Housewives of Perth are coming to Limelight Theatre. Written by Molly Bell and directed by Helen Smolders, the musical is based on the television franchise and localised for a WA audience, looking at how the women interact with each other
and their partners.
Wives Joanne, Babette, Beezus, Lulu and Penny each have their moment in the sun to showcase their life. But they all have secrets, revealed during the course of the show – and the musical explores how they deal with these revelations.
“It’s a fun look at their interactions, which range from feeling part of the group to being the outcast, although the show naturally does have a happy ending,” Helen said. “The musical was first performed in the US in 2016 and the writers encouraged us to localise the content to ensure it was relevant for our audience. This is my first time directing so the challenge is to make each scene work with the script.”
Previously working with the Bunbury Musical Comedy Group and Bunbury Repertory Club, Helen has been involved with backstage work, ‘Allo ‘Allo and “dressing up as a crocodile and chicken in summer pantomimes”.
“As soon as I saw the script for The Real Housewives of Perth, I felt this musical was the right one for mydebut,” she said. “I loved the action and this story is real.”
The Real Housewives of Perth plays at 8pm March 14, 15, 16, 20, 21 and 22 with a 2pm matinee March 24.