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News, Reviews, Theatre

A call for belonging

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.

A woman sits at a coffee table another woman dances. In the background is a projection of a train station.
“When I dance I feel like myself”: Lauren Marchbank dances as Julia Hales looks on. Photo: Toni Wilkinson.

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.

A woman standing in front of a portrait of herself. Both have their arms extended up and out.
Julia Hales. Photo: Toni Wilkinson.

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.

It’s a message everyone should hear.

You Know We Belong Together runs until March 31. 

Pictured top are Julia Hales and Joshua Bott. Photo: Toni Wilkinson.

A woman stands with her hands clasped over her heart.
Julia Hales manages the show with warmth, humour and sensitivity. Photo: Toni Wilkinson.
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Features, News, Performing arts

2018 Performing Arts WA Awards nominations

The nominees for the 2018 Performing Arts WA (PAWA) Awards have been announced.

Traditionally covering theatre, in 2018 the PAWA Awards were expanded to include dance. The twelve theatre, six dance and five shared design awards will be presented at the 2018 PAWA Awards gala event, Monday 29 April, from 7pm, at the State Theatre Centre of Western Australia.

THEATRE AWARDS

Best Mainstage Production, presented by Hawaiian
Hir – Black Swan State Theatre Company
Stay With Us – The Last Great Hunt
Summer of the Seventeenth Doll – Black Swan State Theatre Company
Xenides – Black Swan State Theatre Company
You Know We Belong Together – A Black Swan, Perth Festival and DADAA Co-Production

Best Independent Production
Frankie’s – The Blue Room Theatre & Variegated Productions
godeatgod – The Blue Room Theatre Summer Nights & Squid Vicious
The Inconsequential Lives of Little Fish – The Blue Room Theatre & Frieda, Sam & Friends
Let me finish. – The Blue Room Theatre & Charlotte Otton
Unveiling: Gay Sex for Endtimes – The Blue Room Theatre & Renegade Productions

Best New Work
Samantha Chester & Ensemble – HIRO: The Man Who Sailed His House, Samantha Chester
Julia Hales with Finn O’Branagain and Clare Watson – You Know We Belong Together, A Black Swan, Perth Festival and DADAA Co-Production
Barbara Hostalek – Banned, Mudskipper Productions
Libby Klysz & Ensemble – Frankie’s, Variegated Productions
Terence Smith – 52 Hertz, Beyond the Yard

Best Newcomer
Cassidy Dunn – The Talk, The Last Great Hunt
Mackenzie Dunn – Assassins & Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, Black Swan State Theatre Company
Julia Hales – You Know We Belong Together, A Black Swan, Perth Festival and DADAA Co-Production
Frieda Lee – The Inconsequential Lives of Little Fish, The Blue Room Theatre & Frieda, Sam & Friends
Angela Mahlatjie – Let me finish., The Blue Room Theatre & Charlotte Otton

Best Supporting Actor (Male)
Geoff Kelso – Assassins, Black Swan State Theatre Company
Russell Leonard – Slap & Tickle, The Blue Room Theatre Summer Nights & The Kabuki Drop & WAYJO
Will O’Mahony – Assassins, Black Swan State Theatre Company
Igor Sas – Hir, Black Swan State Theatre Company
Mararo Wangai – Improvement Club, The Last Great Hunt

Best Supporting Actor (Female)
Caitlin Beresford-Ord – Assassins, Black Swan State Theatre Company
Mackenzie Dunn – Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, Black Swan State Theatre Company
Vivienne Garrett – Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, Black Swan State Theatre Company
Jo Morris – Josephine!, The Blue Room Theatre Summer Nights & Second Chance Theatre
Morgan Owen – Court My Crotch, The Blue Room Theatre & FUGUE

Best Actor in a Mainstage Production (Male), presented by Artist Management Australia
Jacob Allan – Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, Black Swan State Theatre Company
Gary Cooper – Skylab, Black Swan State Theatre Company & Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company
Sam Longley – Tom Vickers and the Extraordinary Adventure of his Missing Sock, Spare Parts Puppet Theatre & Western Australian Museum
Will O’Mahony – Hir, Black Swan State Theatre Company
Kelton Pell – Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, Black Swan State Theatre Company

Best Actor in a MainStage Production (Female), presented by Moore Creative Artists
Julia Hales – You Know We Belong Together, A Black Swan – Perth Festival and DADAA Co-Production
Monica Main – The Swash-Line Secret!, The WA Museum Shipwrecks Gallery
Amy Mathews – Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, Black Swan State Theatre Company
Toni Scanlan – Hir, Black Swan State Theatre Company
Alison van Reeken – Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, Black Swan State Theatre Company

Best Actor in an Independent Production (Male), presented by Media Super
Humphrey Bower – HIRO: The Man Who Sailed His House, The Blue Room Theatre & Samantha Chester
St John Cowcher – Frankie’s, The Blue Room Theatre & Variegated Productions
Sam Hayes – The Inconsequential Lives of Little Fish, The Blue Room Theatre & Frieda, Sam & Friends
iOTA – Slap & Tickle, The Blue Room Theatre Summer Nights & The Kabuki Drop & WAYJO
Andrew Sutherland – Unveiling: Gay Sex for Endtimes, The Blue Room Theatre & Renegade Productions

Best Actor in an Independent Production (Female), presented by Media Super
Holly Jones – Banned, The Blue Room Theatre & Mudskipper Productions
Frieda Lee – The Inconsequential Lives of Little Fish, The Blue Room Theatre & Frieda, Sam & Friends
Esther Longhurst – Frankie’s, The Blue Room Theatre & Variegated Productions
Della Rae Morrison – Banned, The Blue Room Theatre & Mudskipper Productions
Clare Testoni – The Beast and The Bride, The Blue Room Theatre Summer Nights & Bow & Dagger

Best Director of a Mainstage Production
Gita Bezard – The Talk, The Last Great Hunt
Jeffrey Jay Fowler – In The Next Room, or The Vibrator Play, Black Swan State Theatre
Company
Adam Mitchell – Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, Black Swan State Theatre Company
Zoe Pepper – Hir, Black Swan State Theatre Company
Clare Watson – You Know We Belong Together, A Black Swan, Perth Festival and DADAA Co-Production

Best Director of an Independent Production
Susie Conte – Lysistrata, Tempest Theatre
Libby Klysz – Frankie’s, The Blue Room Theatre & Variegated Productions
Joe Lui – Unveiling: Gay Sex for Endtimes, The Blue Room Theatre & Renegade Productions
Scott McArdle – Josephine!, The Blue Room Theatre Summer Nights & Second Chance Theatre
James McMillan – Court My Crotch, The Blue Room Theatre & FUGUE

DANCE AWARDS

Best Production
Dracula – West Australian Ballet
Dust on the Shortbread – Anything Is Valid Dance Theatre
Structural Dependency – Brooke Leeder & Dancers, with Louis Frere-Harvey, Nemo Gandossini-Poirier and Matthew Thorley
“WA Dance Makers Project” – Co3 Australia

Best New Work
Carly Armstrong, Jessica Lewis & Amy Wiseman – You Do Ewe, WA Dance Makers Project,
Unkempt Dance
Serena Chalker & Quindell Orton – Dust on the Shortbread, Anything Is Valid Dance Theatre
Brooke Leeder & Dancers – Structural Dependency
Krzysztof Pastor – Dracula, West Australian Ballet

Best Newcomer
Michelle Aitken – Future’s Eve, Paper Mountain
Tanya Brown – In-Lore Act II, WA Dance Makers Project, Co3 Australia
Sarah Sim – Structural Dependency, Brooke Leeder & Dancers & Natalie Allen’s Sisters Vice from In SITU, Emma Fishwick & Kynan Hughes in association with STRUT Dance, Tura New Music & Artrage
Luci Young – Frank Enstein, Co3 Australia

Best Performer (Male)
Eric Avery – Dancing with Strangers as part of “Burrbgaja Yalirra (Dancing Forwards)”, Marrugeku & PICA
Zachary Lopez – Frank Enstein, Co3 Australia
Andrew Searle – “WA Dance Makers Project”, Co3 Australia
Oscar Valdés – La Sylphide, West Australian Ballet

Best Performer (Female)
Floeur Alder – Beyond, Supported by Ochre Contemporary Dance Company
Marlo Benjamin – Love/Less, Kynan Hughes & MoveMe Festival
Ella-Rose Trew – “WA Dance Makers Project”, Co3 Australia
Miranda Wheen – Miranda as part of Burrbgaja Yalirra (Dancing Forwards), Marrugeku & PICA

Best Director or Choreographer
Kynan Hughes – Love/Less, Kynan Hughes & MoveMe Festival
Brooke Leeder – Structural Dependency, Brooke Leeder & Dancers
Grayson Millwood & Gavin Webber – Frank Enstein, Made by The Farm in collaboration with Co3 Australia
Unkempt Dance – You Do Ewe, WA Dance Makers Project, Co3 Australia

THEATRE & DANCE: PRODUCTION AWARDS

Best Sound Design
James Brown & Laurie Sinagra – Frank Enstein, Made by The Farm in collaboration with Co3 Australia
Ben Collins – Seeking basics needs and other tales of excess, PICA & Renée Newman with Ben Collins
Ben Collins – The Talk, The Last Great Hunt
Joe Lui – Unveiling: Gay Sex for Endtimes, The Blue Room Theatre & Renegade Productions
Eden Mulholland – In-Lore Act II as part of WA Dance Makers Project, Co3 Australia

Best Lighting Design
George Ashforth – Court My Crotch, The Blue Room Theatre & FUGUE
Matthew Cox – “Burrbgaja Yalirra (Dancing Forwards)”, Marrugeku & PICA
Joe Lui – Love/Less, Kynan Hughes & MoveMe Festival
Phoebe Pilcher – Unveiling: Gay Sex for Endtimes, The Blue Room Theatre & Renegade Productions
Trent Suidgeest – Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, Black Swan State Theatre Company

Best Stage Design
Maeli Cherel – The Inconsequential Lives of Little Fish, The Blue Room Theatre & Frieda, Sam & Friends
Stephen Curtis – “Burrbgaja Yalirra (Dancing Forwards)”, Marrugeku & PICA
Phil R. Daniels – Dracula, West Australian Ballet
Sohan Ariel Hayes – Ngarlimbah as part of “Burrbgaja Yalirra (Dancing Forwards)”, Marrugeku & PICA
Tyler Hill – Hir, Black Swan State Theatre Company
Rhys Morris – HIRO: The Man Who Sailed His House, The Blue Room Theatre & Samantha Chester

Best Costume Design
Alicia Clements – In The Next Room, or The Vibrator Play, Black Swan State Theatre Company
Stephen Curtis – “Burrbgaja Yalirra (Dancing Forwards)”, Marrugeku & PICA
Charles Cusick Smith – Dracula, West Australian Ballet
Lexi De Silva – La Sylphide, West Australian Ballet
Lynn Ferguson – Assassins, Black Swan State Theatre Company
Tarryn Gill – Hir, Black Swan State Theatre Company

Best Composition or Arranging
Michael Brett – Dracula, West Australian Ballet
Sascha Budimski – Love/Less, Kynan Hughes & MoveMe Festival
Georgina Cramond – Josephine!, The Blue Room Theatre Summer Nights & Second Chance Theatre
Ekrem Mülayim – HIRO: The Man Who Sailed His House, The Blue Room Theatre & Samantha Chester
Nat Pavlovic – Night Sweats, The Blue Room Theatre Summer Nights & Static Drive Co

Head to the Perth Theatre Trust website to book tickets for the 2018 PAWA Awards gala event.

Pictured top: Black Swan State Theatre Company’s production of ‘Hir’. Pictured: Will O’Mahony, Toni Scanlan and Igor Sas. Photo: Daniel James Grant.

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Juliet at her balcony
News, Reviews, Theatre

Students hit sweet spot

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.

Camilla Ponte-Alvarez (Tybalt) and Ben Chapple (Samson). Photo: Jon Green.

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.

Romeo and Juliet runs until March 21.

Poppy Lynch as Juliet and Jonathan Lagudi as Romeo are pictured top. Photo: Jon Green.

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Calendar, Dance, May 19, Performing arts

Dance: The Line

15 – 19 May @ Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre ·
Presented by Raewyn Hill & Mark Howett ·

Co3 Australia presents The Line, a world premiering creation by Raewyn Hill in collaboration with Mark Howett. This powerful dance-theatre work draws on the boundary line that demarcated a prohibited area in central Perth for Aboriginal people between 1927 and 1954. Co3’s cast are joined on stage with live accompaniment by Co3 Associate Artist and award-winning musician Eden Mulholland and internationally renowned piano-accordionist, James Crabb.

More info
W: www.co3.org.au
E:  info@co3.org.au

Pictured: Stefan Gosatti Dancer: Ian Wilkes

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News, Performing arts, Perth Festival, Reviews, story telling, Theatre

Treasure trove

Perth Festival review: Danny Braverman, Wot? No Fish!! ·
Studio Underground, February 20 ·
Review by David Zampatti ·

The stories of the great ones are carved in stone.

Around them teem millions of people with lives that pass unknown, their stories unnoticed and then forgotten – evidence of their joys and sorrows, their increase and decrease, the circumstances of their coming and their going reduced to a few dusty lines in government files, a photograph album soon to be discarded or fading from living memory.

Or left, forgotten, in a shoebox under a bed.

Which is where the English storyteller Danny Braverman and his mother found a treasure-trove of common life – and a long, ordinary love affair told in an extraordinary way – as they were clearing out her deceased cousin’s flat in Chelsea.

Since 1926 when he married his beautiful next-door neighbour Celie, Braverman’s great-uncle Ab Solomon had taken home his payslip from the shoe factory where he worked and given it to his wife with the housekeeping inside and a simple drawing or a painting on the outside.

When he retired he kept giving her an envelope with a painting on it every week until she died in 1982.

It’s the history of their marriage, from their ardent newlyweddedness through to ailing old age.

History – depression, wars, austerity, the exodus of the middle-class from old cities to new, milquetoast suburbia – comes and goes; Abe and Celie suffer hardships and personal tragedies, feel their ardour cool and, sometimes,  distances grow, but Abe’s little sketches tells the story of an enduring love that recalls John Donne’s great metaphor, “If they be two, they are two so, as stiff twin compasses are two”.

Braverman tells Ab and Celie’s story in the simplest possible way, projecting a selection of these little doodles on a screen while commentating – and often speculating – about what’s happening in them.

He has a broad, knowing East-End Jewishness that disarms you immediately. If you enjoy words starting with schm… you’ll have a ball; if you love fishballs dipped in chrain (the traditional relish made from beetroot and horseradish that Braverman hands around as an icebreaker)  you will be with him from the get-go.

As you should be, whatever your taste in dialects and finger-food, because the story of Ab and Celie that he tells with good humour, taste and emotional precision is a window into the world of real people that will survive, in our common humanity, when all the statues have crumbled and there’s nothing left of the great ones they memorialise but names.

Wot?  No Fish!!  is playing at Studio Underground until February 24,

Pictured top: Danny Braverman diving deep into his family history. Photo: Tony Lewis.

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Dance, News, Perth Festival, Reviews

Stark, dark and utterly compelling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pictured are Alex Leonhartsberger (Jimmy) and Rachel Poirier (Finola). Photo: Matt Grace.

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Ursula Martinez performing in a white suit against a red curtain
Comedy, News, Perth Festival, Reviews, Theatre

Brickbats and bouquets

Perth Festival review: Ursula Martinez, Free Admission ·
Studio Underground, February 14 ·
Review by Robert Housely ·

The art of bricklaying, typically, is practised by tanned alpha men in stubbies shorts and blue singlets on dusty building sites.

When a well-manicured gay woman with hair in a neat bun wearing a white business suit does it on stage, the stereotypical world order has been seriously disrupted.

Although this contradiction is extremely unlikely, it is possible, sometimes. Sometimes, anything can happen.

That is precisely the point of acclaimed UK experimental theatre maker and cabaret performer Ursula Martinez – a Perth Festival artist-in-residence – in this one of her several festival offerings.

The starting point for this Mark Whitelaw-directed show was her realisation that “the word sometimes reinforces the idea that there is no absolute truth … that life isn’t fixed … that we are all prone to contradiction and all capable of change.”

Her performance comprises a strategically entangled compendium of personal anecdotes and observations, many of which begin with the word “sometimes”.

All the while she uses small concrete blocks, a trowel and mortar to fill in a cut-away section of a partition wall between her and the audience.

Slowly but surely you see less and less of her as she gradually builds a wall which, in keeping with her intent, is a complete contradiction to her unabashed personal exposé.

Her anecdotes can be bawdy, are frequently topical and – whatever the subject matter – are often hilarious.

“Sometimes”, she says, “the world would be better without penises and religion; and I’m not saying get rid of penises.”

“Sometimes”, she says, “I get jealous of Catherine Tate because I once did a comedy show with her 20 years ago. Sometimes, I’m not ‘bovered’.”

She remembers racist childhood ditties from the 1970s, reciting them as though still in the schoolyard with friends.

She reveals her “obsession with having a clean bum hole” as though intimate personal hygiene was open to public debate.

She mentions her current divorce proceedings with ex-partner “princess mental case”.

Nothing is off the table in what is a smorgasbord of personal admissions.

Her command of multiple accents complements many of her stories whether parodying her Scottish sex-education teacher or channelling her Spanish mother, who has a propensity for “hitting the nail on the head”.

Some playful audience engagement and an outrageous finale contribute to making this thoroughly accessible show well worth the price of admission.

Free Admission is playing at the Studio Underground until  Feb 18.

Pictured top: Ursula Martinez trowels it on.

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Olympian spectacle

Perth Festival review: Dimitris Papaioannou, The Great Tamer ·
Heath Ledger Theatre, February 8 ·
Review by David Zampatti ·

Dimitris Papaioannou’s The Great Tamer begins with a slow, simple contest. A man’s naked body lies on a white panel on a grey/black stage. A man covers the body with a sheet; another man blows the sheet away. They enter, play their game, leave. Enter, play and leave. Again and again.

As it transpires, all of Papaioannou’s spectacle (it can’t be meaningfully described as a play, or a dance) is a game, the subject of which, the rules it adheres to or breaks, the bats, balls, dice, cards it plays with, is time. Time is the great tamer.

Papaioannou, who is best known as the creator of the opening ceremony for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, is by training and inclination a visual artist, and The Great Tamer is most satisfactorily approached as an animated work of art.

The set, a captured ocean swell, consists of a seemingly disordered jumble of those panels, like a jigsaw puzzle all of whose pieces are the same colour and shape. On and through this monochromatic landscape, Papaioannou’s troupe of ten actor/dancer/acrobats form and reform into tableaux, mutant creatures, or body parts, appearing and disappearing through unseen fissures into some unimaginable underworld.

It’s a world of art, sometimes specific (Dr Tulp gives his anatomy class, Kronos/Saturn devours his children) sometimes suggested (there’s much of the spirit of Dali in Papaioannou’s visual imagination; Escher and Bosch also), always playful.

Unsurprisingly, the forms and images of classical Greek art recur throughout. A figure has its marble surfaces cracked away to reveal the boy beneath (the debris is the rubble of time, swept up, bagged and thrown into the void), disembodied arms, legs and heads scurry from holes across the stage

For all the visual thrills of The Great Tamer perhaps the most brilliant effect Papaioannou creates, with his colleague Stephanos Droussiotis, is its music, a remarkable attenuation of Strauss’s An der schönen blauen Donau (The Blue Danube). It’s signature passages are excised, gradually dissolving into separate phrases and, finally, single notes, the musical equivalent of the aforementioned disembodied limbs. It’s a game, of course, a playing with the time that tames sound to make it music.

The Blue Danube is also, of course, a recurring motif in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Lovers of that similarly disconcerting visual extravaganza (I bet Papaioannou is) will recognise other references to it in the incongruous spacemen who float awkwardly across the stage, the light behind their helmets’ visors, like the reflections of the eye of HAL.

The cast of The Great Tamer are superbly skilled and superbly choreographed. Some of the physical effects they create defy logic, their acrobatic and circus skills are of the highest order, their wordless expressiveness compelling.

Because this is a world without words, and without narrative. It’s Plato/Socrates’s world of forms, of timeless ideas, of sight and appearance, the original Twilight Zone.

It’s Papaioannou’s playground; it’s where Estragon and Vladimir wait and Lear is exiled. It’s Beckett and Eliot and Shakespeare distilled, first into images and then to thought.

It’s no surprise, and no accident, that Papaioannou’s final image is of a skeleton breaking apart into rubble like a ruined Greek statue. Its skull rolls off the stage and comes to rest against . . . a book.

Perhaps waiting, in the marvellous game of The Great Tamer, for a Danish prince to play with.

The Great Tamer is playing at the Heath Ledger Theatre until February 12.

Pictured top: Platonic forms – the cast of The Great Tamer animate classical works of art

Photo: Julian Momert

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Unforgettable

Perth Festival review: Ursula Martinez, A Family Outing– 20 Years On ·
State Theatre Centre Studio Underground, February 8 ·
Review by Mark Naglazas ·

When the advertising for a show features its creator and leading lady stark naked (albeit with pixelation in all the right places) and her co-star is her elderly mother, who has the beginnings of dementia, you brace yourself for an evening of confrontation and confession.

However, the marketing for A Family Outing – 20 Years On is the first of a series of marvellous rug pulls expertly executed by British LGBTQ diva Ursula Martinez as she toys with the audience’s expectations, so relentlessly that your lasting memory is of a show about putting on a show.

From the moment Martinez steps into the spotlight and explains she will screen a video of the earlier iteration of A Family Outing in which she sat on a “crappy sofa arguing with her mum and dad” through to the final stages when she provides her own review  of the new show (“a platform for marginalised communities” she boasts), this is meta-theatre at its most joyous, accessible and human.

However, the breezy, knockabout approach disguises Martinez’s deeper purpose – to examine the toll taken by the passing of time and, in particular, the impact of dementia.

Instead of dissecting the disease in a scientific and sociological sense, as is familiar in today’s fact-based narratives, Martinez uses the idea of a show that constantly meanders off-script as a wonderfully apt metaphor for the mind struggling to hang on to reality.

And by having the previous version of the show running in the background, in which we see Martinez and her Spanish-born mother Milagros and late father Albert Lee, we’re thrust into an echo chamber in which past and present become confused in the same way they must in a mind slipping away.

Milagros is a long way from being put into full-time care. She is a vivacious and funny stage presence as she fully engages with her daughter’s playful theatrics. “It’s really boring,” whines Milagros when Ursula leaves the stage to get a pen (yes, that’s about as dramatic as the action gets).

But a part of the fun of A Family Outing – 20 Years On is working out how much of the show is scripted and how much of it is improvised. When Ursula’s sister Facetimes in from the UK I wasn’t sure if it was live or if Martinez is so expert at playing casual that she’s turned a pre-recorded moment into something spontaneous-seeming.

Again, this slippage between scripted and improvised action, while commonplace in film and television, works perfectly as a metaphor for a mind struggling to remember the common script of humanity.

But it is not just Milagros who is battling to recall the facts of her own family history. Martinez is just as willing to poke gentle fun at her own mental decline, which she illustrates with a hilarious black-and-white home movie-ish recreation of how Milagros and Albert met and fell in love (a really cute story involving her teacher-father’s obsession with all things physics).

In every image of Milagros she is wearing a mantilla, a traditional Spanish lacy headdress. She’s wearing it while vacuuming, while going on a date and while lying in bed crying about Albert and begging her own mother for advice.

When Milagros sees herself dressed in something straight out Semana Santa in her southern Spanish homeland she gags. “I’ve never worn one of those in my life. I’ve never seen anyone wear one. I don’t think they’ve worn them since the 19th century,” scolds Milagros.

It’s this delightful struggle between two women who deeply love each other that is the heart of A Family Outing – 20 Years On. Can you imagine any other performer taking her mother on tour and putting her on stage so she can keep an eye on her? Or is that part of the show? Who cares. It’s funny and touching and, by the end, richly meaningful.

A Family Outing – 20 Years On is playing at the Theatre Underground until February 12.

Pictured top: Milagros  (left) and Ursula Martinez (right). Photo: Toni Wilkinson.

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stage bathed in purple light, one performer at a desk
Fringe World, News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

Beware the gimmick

Fringe World review: The Royal Court, Izzy McDonald and Gavin Roach, Manwatching ·
State Theatre Centre of WA as part of the Blue Room Theatre’s Summer Nights, 18 January ·
Review by David Zampatti ·

So here we have the latest iteration of the Soleimanpour School (after Nassim Soleimanpour, the Iranian playwright whose White Rabbit, Red Rabbit was among the first of the species); plays specifically written to be performed by people – professional performers or amateurs – who have never seen the script they will read to an audience.

Manwatching has another progenitor, Eve Ensler’s epochal The Vagina Monologues, which has done great things, and great box office, since the mid-nineties.

With bloodlines like that, it should be impossible for it to fail.

The play, written by an anonymous woman, is about “heterosexual female desire”, though by-and-large that translates to female masturbatory fantasy. Its shtick is that it’s read by a man.

Now you can argue that this gender reversal emphasises “Anonymous’s” points about male perceptions of women. Fair enough.

My suspicion, though, is that it’s more in response to the flaw in the whole Soleimanpour School; it’s essentially a gimmick, and the problem with gimmicks is that you can’t keep repeating them – you can’t throw the same pitch too many times.

So you have to find ways to gimmick the gimmick, and Manwatching is one of them.

Tonight’s performer was the skilful and wily actor Paul Grabovac, and he waded into the long monologue with all his talents on show. It was fun delving into the etymology of genitalia, and, for a time, the qualities in men that make them wankworthy. Before long, however, you realised you weren’t hearing anything you hadn’t heard before, and you were hearing it rehashed too often.

Grabovac’s performance wilted under the weight of it all, and eventually you could tell he was wondering how many pages of script were left to go.

So was I.

Manwatching plays the State Theatre Centre of WA until January 26.

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