3 male characters in play
Calendar, Children, January 2020, Theatre

Children: Theatre: Fantastic Mr Fox

22 – 26 January @ State Theatre Centre of WA ·
Presented by Shake & Stir Theatre and PTT ·

Roald Dahl’s much-loved Fantastic Mr Fox will leap off the page and onto the State Theatre Centre of WA stage from 22 to 26 January 2020 in a “jaw-droppingly”, visually-spectacular, critically-acclaimed production for the whole family.

Published in 1970, Fantastic Mr Fox displays the full array of Dahl’s hilarious wit: it’s an action-thriller-suspense-comedy overflowing with cunning plans, explosions and chases, not to mention mischief, mayhem and humongous belly laughs. Mr Fox lives in the wood, in a hole, under a huge tree with Mrs Fox and their small Fox family. Every night, Mr Fox leaves the hole to steal food from three horrible farmers –Boggis, Bunce and Bean – one fat, one short, one lean.

“This is epic theatre for young people: actors interacting with full-stage animation on a huge 12-metre tall set that houses a bag-full of theatrical tricks – it’s thrilling, cutting-edge theatre that appeals to people of all ages,” he said.

More info:
www.ptt.wa.gov.au/venues/state-theatre-centre-of-wa/whats-on/roald-dahls-fantastic-mr-fox/

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Behind the scenes of the suburbs

Review: WA Youth Theatre Company, The Cockatoos ·
Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre of Western Australia, 21 November ·
Review by Robert Housley ·

Behind the façade of suburban life are the complex stories of its human inhabitants. The relationships within individual households are a daily dance. The interactions between people living in the same neighbourhood can go beyond superficial pleasantries, if they can be bothered to even acknowledge each other. For many of us, this is a significant portion of our lives. Little wonder this milieu is such fertile ground for creative industry practitioners.

When one of Australia’s foremost authors, 1973 Nobel Literature Prize-winner Patrick White, dissects this world, its underlying complexities are exposed on the page. His short novel The Cockatoos has been reimagined for the stage by guest director Andrew Hale and presented by an accomplished twelve-member cast of WA Youth Theatre Company performers.

This moderately challenging work has the hallmarks of White’s dense writing – stream-of-consciousness storytelling from a multitude of perspectives. Just seven of the twelve performers have defined roles: Lauren Thomas (Olive), Liam Hickey (Mick), Alexander Gerrans (Clyde), Rebecca Collin (Gwen) Georgia Ivers (Miss LeCornu) Brent Shields (Figgis) and Sylvia Cornes (Mrs Dulhunty and Mumma). The remaining five – Amelia Burke, Christopher Moro, Grace Chow, Zachary Sheridan and Samai King – are all designated members of the chorus. When the principal characters are not in their roles, they too become members of the chorus.

Lauren Thomas as Olive and Liam Hickey as Mick. Photo: David Cox.

Deciphering who is who and where the narrative is heading is occasionally confusing, but there is a strong storyline that keeps the audience thoroughly engaged. Set in the 1970s, it revolves around an aging, childless couple, Olive and Mick. They have not spoken to each other for seven years, only communicating via an exchange of written notes. The apparent reason for their disturbingly unhealthy relationship is the death of her beloved budgie while he was caring for it in her absence. Mick has found loveless intimacy elsewhere in the company of Miss LeCornu, whose one-line descriptor typifies White’s searing wit: “Always stoned, but never to death”.

Archetypal suburban Australia rings true with the arrival of cockatoos that roost in the sugar gum in Olive and Mick’s yard. Can these new birds be the salve to repair their deeply dysfunctional relationship? But what about the noise?

Alongside this is the more peripheral story of eight-year-old Tim, who has sneaked out of his family home to spend the night alone in the local park. The things you can see after dark with a child’s imagination and when no-one knows you are there. Grumpy neighbours, judgemental parents and charity collections also find their way in to the story of this typical Australian neighbourhood.

Bringing this all together in 65 minutes was a directorial feat by Hale and his two assistants (Jono Battista and Elise Wilson) that the ensemble cast approached with gusto. Indeed, it is the collective strength of their performance and its dynamism that was the highlight of the show. There was never a dull moment, doubtless enhanced by WAYTC artistic director James Berlyn’s attention to detail in the unusual role of Movement and Intimacy Coordinator.

Costume designer Laura Heffernan has clearly had fun dressing the cast in classic 70s garb. The sound design by Neil Webster and assistant David Stewart is all about suburban atmospherics, starting beautifully with birdsong and piano. Ash Gibson Greig has also created an original song for the piece. Tony Gordon’s lighting does just what is necessary to subtly augment each scene on the ostensibly bare stage, which has a multifunctional giant swing as its only set item.

If this show is a reflection of performance quality from the WA Youth Theatre Company as it approaches its 30th anniversary in 2020, then funding the development of emerging theatre artists for its next 30 years is money well spent.

Recommended for ages 16 years and above.

The Cockatoos runs until 29 November. 

Pictured top is Lauren Thomas as Olive, with company members in background. Photo: David Cox.

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Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Bold new works make for dark double bill

STRUT Dance and the State Theatre of WA, “And Then Some” ·
Studio Underground, 13 November ·
Review by Tanya Rodin, mentored by Nina Levy ·

A double bill of independent dance boldly slapped its opening night audience at the State Theatre Centre of WA. Entitled “And Then Some”, the program is part of a new initiative from STRUT Dance, The Blue Room Theatre, the State Theatre Centre of WA and Co:3 Australia, and offers two emerging choreographers the opportunity to present work on the Studio Underground stage. The two works presented in inaugural iteration of “And Then Some” are by emerging Australian choreographers Scott Ewen and Lewis Major.

To have independent choreographic works developed and performed in Perth is always exciting, even more so when supported by some of the major players in the performing arts sector.

So why the use of the word “slapped”?

I understand the desire to create art that holds a mirror to the world, and that such works are often smeared with a dark tone, but I am finding myself starting to crave a little laugh, a little joy, a little hope, that could also potentially bring change.

Introduced by a witty, pink-wigged host (Olivia Hendry) the program begins with Scott Ewen’s Wasps at War, a work exploring the notion of competition, fighting and the decisions in between. It buzzes into being with two dancers (Dean-Ryan Lincoln and Rhiana Katz), each mesmerised by the wrapping of cloth bandages tightly around their wrists, preparing for the battle of limbs to come. With whipping wasp hands and warped wasping ballet, two more dancers (Scott Ewen and Lilly King) seem to be pressing pause and play, entangling and rearranging as they “strive for ascendency”.

I enjoyed watching, and wanted to see more of, the play with the bandage. It entwines and morphs the space between the dancers, as if adding extra limbs, extra contact, extra support or extra leverage. The four dancers move together with strength, clarity and precision, and then shift into slapping, shoving and suppressing.

As an audience member, I am usually not so interested in movement “tricks”… but Ewen has a way of fluidly blurring the lines so that “tricks” explode – impressively – out of nothing, as if he flies into fight and then dissipates. At times, however, I am not sure I believed the fight between the dancers.

Composer Dane Yates, a regular collaborator with dance and movement-based works, has a way of enticing the audiences into the complexities of rhythm, form and tension in movement, and his scores for these two works are no exception. Lighting designer Fausto Brusamolino illuminates the stage beautifully across the double bill, demonstrating the breadth of his visual palette, from eye-squinting haze to flashes of piercing light.

Second on the bill, Lewis Majors’ Platypus appears comical at first, with a dancer in an animal suit (the platypus of the title?) that stands in the spotlight staring back at us. A voiceover announces that this is an “important work of art”, before we are plunged into darkness and a bone-shaking cacophony of sound.

The lights come up, and we see six women in simple pink dresses, (a stellar cast of Jasmin Lancaster, Nikki Tarling, Sophia van Gent, Tra Mi Dinh, Zoe Wozniak and Sarah Wilson), who stand and stare, powerfully holding the space. The light fades in and out, revealing some things but not everything, until just one dancer (Zoe Wozniak) remains, back curled, swaying, silently calling the others to join the tribe-like movement.

These six women seem to command the space to move for them as they curve in and out of the floor. The cohesion and complexity of choreographic patterning in the group is impressive, especially given the relatively short rehearsal period.

But Major subtly scatters small warning signs that something is not right. The women transform into fierce-eyed creatures, circling the space. There’s a dramatic shift in tone with scenes that had me squirming in my seat; the women fighting then being hit by the faceless animal/man, followed by almost ritualistic torture, complete with replica guns. By the end I was left in shock, staring at the dishevelled man, still in the animal suit, gasping for air.

Leaving the theatre after the show, I found myself pondering the violent images in my mind, and questioning why. The clue “Epstein didn’t kill himself”, in Major’s program notes, sparked me researching when I got home and I encourage you to do the same. In a world full of brokenness and danger, I recognise that portraying this destruction might be a way to make us think, question, and then, perhaps, take action. But as a dance artist myself, I can’t help but wonder what it would have been like to be in that rehearsal process. Seeing my contemporaries being beaten or holding a gun (albeit replica) to someone’ s head was shocking. It seems it was Major’s intention to shock, but I wasn’t clear what conversation he hopes to spark, and at what cost.

Though I loved seeing two athletic works performed by two casts of powerhouse dancers, for me this double bill is a heavy combination. “And Then Some” is an exciting new initiative, but for me it truly was dark in the Studio Underground on Wednesday night.

“And Then Some” runs until November 16.

Pictured top: Lilly King (front) and Scott Ewen in Ewen’s “Wasps at War”. Photo: Emma Fishwick.

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Calendar, Dance, Featured, November 19, Performing arts

Dance: And Then Some

13 – 16 November @ State Theatre Centre of WA ·
Presented by STRUT Dance and State Theatre Centre of WA ·

An exhilarating evening of contemporary dance made in WA. Provocative, bold and sassy, And Then Some, showcases a double bill of daring and devil-may-care dance, served up to you by two of Australia’s finest young makers Lewis Major and Scott Ewen.

For four shows only, high-octane moves collide with dark comedy in the Studio Underground of the State Theatre Centre – the home of contemporary dance in WA.

More info
W: www.ptt.wa.gov.au/venues/state-theatre-centre-of-wa/whats-on/and-then-some/
E:  marketing@ptt.wa.gov.au

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Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa. image credit Daniel J Grant.jpg
News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

It’s finger-clicking good

Review: Black Swan State Theatre Company and Barking Gecko Theatre, Fully Sikh ·
Studio Underground, 12 October ·
Review by Xan Ashbury ·

I can’t recall ever having used the word “sick” as an expression of enthusiasm or admiration, let alone having coupled it with its obligatory intensifier, “fully”. That’s all about to change.

Like everything about this show, written and performed by Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa and directed by Matt Edgerton, its title is perfect. Not only does it hint at the show’s cultural themes, it provides a succinct and accurate review. Fully Sikh is fully sick.

One of my all-time favourite poems is “Capital Letters”, by the spoken word artist Omar Musa. It relates his experience growing up in Queanbeyan, NSW, among the “kids of immigrants” who were “made to feel very small”. Musa recalls “the whistle of go-back-to-where-you-came-froms” and how it was rappers who taught him the power of his voice. His clarion call to others who are marginalised is to “weave your stories into nets, trawl for the things you thought you’d lost”. Above all, he commands them to reject labels, be bold and live their dreams.

Fully Sikh is Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa’s story of growing up in suburban Perth – and in many ways her story parallels that journey described by Musa. Khalsa’s father came from Punjab, she tells us, and “the city of five rivers lingers in his limbs”. From the school yard, to the local swimming centre, from the supermarket to the cinema, she encountered ignorance and xenophobia. (“All that echoes is ‘towel head’ and the salty taste of embarrassment.”) She found her voice writing hip hop parodies and performing for family, before hitting the performance poetry scene six years ago – and making her mark across the country.

Sukhjit-Kaur-Khalsa-and-Pavan-Kumar-Hari.-image-credit-Daniel-J-Grant.jpg
Tellling her stories through verse: Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa is accompanied by composer Pavan Kumar Hari. Photo: Daniel J Grant.

Khalsa has indeed woven her stories into a net of sorts. Fully Sikh trawls the depths of her family, culture and identity. And it captured the audience’s heart – from the moment we slipped off our shoes and stepped into the auditorium, to the unique curtain-call, in which she performs a shabad, a divine poetic song.

Khalsa says she was the shyest child at Leeming Primary School and in the Sikh community. You wouldn’t know it now. She manages to not just own the stage but populate it too, creating an illusion of her family members, school friends and frenemies.

Her stories, told through verse, are enhanced by show’s composer, Pavan Kumar Hari, who performs the music live on stage as well as assuming several character roles to hilarious effect.

Isla Shaw’s ingenious set has all the magic of the wardrobe from Narnia. Central to this is what appears to be functioning kitchen, representing the heart of the family home in Leeming. At times throughout the show, various pantry cupboards are opened to reveal a garden or the Gurdwara. Clever manipulations also set the scene in Woolies, Hoytes, the recreation centre, Sukhjit’s bedroom and a school assembly hall.

The action takes place under four rows of draped fabric, stretching the width of the performance space. It’s an evocative spectacle.

Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa and Pavan Kumar Hari. image credit Daniel J Grant.jpg
A generous spirit: Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa and Pavan Kumar Hari in ‘Fully Sikh’. Photo: Daniel J Grant.

Fully Sikh highlights the struggle for acceptance that newcomers face, where there is ignorance and prejudice. It reminds us that the past was not necessarily a better place and that Australia is strengthened by cultural diversity. It does this not through angsty rants but through a brilliant balance of humour, honesty and a generous spirit.

At one memorable point, the audience is invited to stand and learn a Bhangra dance. (“Screw the lightbulb, tap your feet, bounce the ball.”) It’s rare to be among an audience having so much fun. Later, in silent rapture, we watch as Khalsa ties a turban onto the head of a volunteer from the audience. Along the way, we learn how the fabric reminds the wearer of their roles in their family and community, and of the values of courage, strength, unity.

Those who frequent poetry slams will be familiar with the convention of finger clicking. Rather than saving their applause until the end of a poet’s piece, audience members are free to click their fingers when they’re particularly “feeling it”. At the beginning of the show, Khalsa invited the audience to express themselves this way. The clicking soon wore off, though – not because the audience wasn’t feeling it, but simply because it’s not physically possible to click your fingers for 75 minutes straight.

Fully Sikh runs until October 27.

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Luke Carrol, Tony Briggs, Melodie Reynolds-Diarra.BITNW_STC_2018Brisbane_creditPrudenceUpton_049.
News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

Building bridges with laughter

Review: Black Swan presents Sydney Theatre Company, Black is the New White ·
Heath Ledger Theatre, 14 September ·
Review by Jan Hallam ·

Before the start of the opening night performance of Nakkiah Lui’s Black is the New White, directed by Paige Rattray, actors Tony Briggs and Kylie Bracknell (Kaarlijilba Kaardn) paid a moving tribute to Ningali Lawford-Wolf, a Wangkatjunka woman of the far-north Kimberley and all-round great actor and person.

She passed away in Edinburgh while touring with The Secret River for Sydney Theatre Company – a terrific play she helped develop from Kate Grenville’s powerful novel.

Ningali Lawford-Wolf touched many lives, not least the many thousands who saw her perform but with whom she never met, this reviewer being one of them.

How is this relevant to Lui’s fast, furious and funny discourse on race, class, politics, love and the perils of Christmas?

In the simple injunction of Briggs – to feel free to laugh often and loudly, just like Ningali, and the opening night audience took him at his word.

There is a lot of playful fun watching as young successful lawyer Charlotte Gibson (Miranda Tapsell) tries to clear a path through her family’s (mostly her father, Roy’s) expectations that she become a crusading Aboriginal leader – playing a strong second fiddle to him, of course, and his vision of himself as the Australian Martin Luther King.

Miranda Tapsell as Charlotte and Tom Stokes as Francis. Photo: Toni Wilkinson.
Miranda Tapsell as Charlotte and Tom Stokes as Francis. Photo: Toni Wilkinson.

The way is especially fraught because the love of her life, Francis (Tom Stokes), is an unemployed experimental musician, who happens to be white, and not just musician white, but the son of Roy’s sworn political enemy, the arch conservative Dennison Smith (Geoff Morrell). Briggs is masterful in the role.

Chuck in the tensions between and within each set of parents – special mention of Melodie Reynolds-Diarra as Charlotte’s mum, Joan, and Vanessa Downing as Fran’s mother, Marie, who together managed to add such a classy and sassy layer of sharp-witted feminism into the already heady brew – and the audience is working double time to keep pace.

Oh, and did I mention Charlotte’s sister, Rose? Bracknell plays this glorious character – the fashionista WAG of the first Aboriginal captain of the Wallabies, the god-fearing, sweet-natured Sonny (Anthony Taufa).

Rose has a head for business and a nose for the good life but she also has deeply held views about keeping the family black and making a lot of black babies to reclaim Australia. The twist there is she doesn’t want to stop taking the Pill.

Like the ancient classics, Lui adds a touch of the Greek Chorus with narrator Luke Carroll watching over proceedings, offering a missing lighter for the cheeky spliff here and there, and some context to help the audience to keep pace… and busting some pretty neat dance moves.

And like all great comedies there is a solid trail of ideologies on display, ripe for challenging ill-begat stereotypes and cultural tropes.

But perhaps more importantly, certainly felt from this angle, Lui also wants her audience to be free to engage with the painful and complex aftermath of the Stolen Generation, the deeps cracks caused by past and present colonialism and social and political disenfranchisement of not only Aboriginal people but any one who plays differently in the playground of current Australia.

It is a powerful and sturdy bridge she builds.

Black is the New White plays the State Theatre Centre of WA until September 22.

Pictured top: Luke Carrol, Tony Briggs and Melodie Reynolds-Diarra. Photo: Prudence Upton.

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Dance, Music, News, Performing arts

Local superhero

Review: Laura Boynes, Adelina Larsson and Julie-Anne Long, ‘Wonder Woman’ ·
State Theatre Centre of WA, 28 August ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

The entrance for “Wonder Woman” is door 2 of the Heath Ledger Theatre but instead of heading into the auditorium we are ushered backstage, into a space it takes me a moment to recognise as the theatre stage. It’s a fitting start to a show that gently subverts our expectations of what a “wonder woman” might be.

A program of two solo works, the seeds for “Wonder Woman” were sown when local dance artist Laura Boynes commissioned Sydney-based choreographers Julie-Anne Long and Adelina Larsson to each create a solo for her, based on the catalyst: “Supposing feminism was a superhero…”

Though Boynes explains in her program notes that she chose the two choreographers for their thematic similarities (amongst other things), their resulting solos are vastly different in style and dynamic. The lynch pin is the charismatic and versatile Boynes.

Laura Boynes. Photo: Emma Fishwick.
Arms outstretched: Laura Boynes in Adelina Larsson’s ‘Rite II: Solo”. Photo: Emma Fishwick.

Long’s work, To Be Honest: a girl’s own collection of unconfirmed tales, is a gorgeous mash-up of fact and fiction, movement and story-telling, ballet and life. Long has capitalised on Boynes’ off-beat sense of humour and her hand-flapping entry, clad an out-sized dressing gown-cum-doona and accompanied by the “Aurora Variation” from Coppelia, sets the tone for the work.

What follows is a series of anecdotes about growing up, about being a dancer, about mothers, about not (yet?) being a mother, about saying “fuck you” (or not)… interwoven with more extracts from Coppelia and Boynes’ loose-limbed, joyous interpretation of that music. There are many layers; of costume (stylishly designed by Bruce McKinven) and of stories. Some bits ring true, and some bits are tongue-in-cheek… but can we be sure which is which? Long’s superhero finds her strength in the multiplicity of the tales she tells, and in keeping us guessing.

Laura Boynes performing Wonder Woman
A visceral work: Laura Boynes in Adelina Larsson’s ‘Rite II: Solo’. Photo: Emma Fishwick.

In stark contrast, Adelina Larsson’s Rite II: Solo is a visceral work, abstract and introverted. Composed by Shoeb Ahmad (who mixes and loops pre-recorded samples live), the vocal score is wordless; a ghostly melange of sharp sips of air, of calls and keens, of sobs. Though we hear Boynes talk about being a dancer in Long’s work, it’s here that we experience the intensity of what that means.

In a twilight world (designed by Chris Donnelly) we see Boynes caress her own limbs, as though washing them clean. Twitches and shudders punctuate movement that is otherwise fluid, rolling and rippling through space. With her hands clasped behind her head, or thrust in her pockets, her hips lead the way. Arms outstretched she claps; the sound cracks and reverberates. The female super-power in Larsson’s solo is found in everything that is non-verbal.

Boynes is a compelling performer and the emotional range that she demonstrates in this program is impressive. Though it’s not her intention, she is the Wonder Woman of the title. Make sure you see her in action.

‘Wonder Woman’ runs until August 31.

Read a Q&A with Laura Boynes here.

Pictured top is Laura Boynes in “To Be Honest: a girl’s own collection of unconfirmed takes”, by Julie-Anne Long. Photo: Emma Fishwick.

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BSSTC's production of Medea - by Kate Mulvany and Anne-Louise Sarks, original concept by Anne-Louise Sarks after Euripides; at Studio Underground, State Theatre of WA; Perth, WA. Photographed on 8th August 2019, by Philip Gostelow.
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The power of the ordinary

Review: Black Swan State Theatre Co. with WA Youth Theatre Co., Medea ·
State Theatre Centre of WA, 10 August ·
Review by David Zampatti ·

They have been so long dead. Two thousand, four hundred and fifty years in fact.

Like the princes in the tower or the infant victims of Macbeth’s fell swoop, the sons of Jason and Medea died mute and unknown, their individual humanity unexplored and undefended.

Since then, Medea – sorceress, she-devil, spirit of vengeance, woman scorned, arch-nihilist and exterminating angel – has been reimagined and recast a thousand times, from antiquity through to Fay Weldon, her character and motivation examined, and claimed, by feminists and misogynists alike.

She has become an elemental figure in art and life.

So it’s an audacious and fecund idea to invert the focus of Medea; to bring her boys to life in their last innocent hour so that their mother’s crime against abstract nature is against real, identifiable people, however young.

In the original, Medea is in every scene, always with only one other character. The boys are never seen, and only their screams are heard as they are slaughtered. In this adaptation the boys are always on stage, and Medea is the only other character we see.

It’s risky. It’s not like, say, Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, where we have the framework of the characters available to us, where we have heard them speak, seen the whites of their eyes, before.

We know nothing about these boys, and the writers, Kate Mulvany and Anne-Louise Sarks, have created them from absolutely nothing other than the fact of their death; we know how they died, but we can’t be certain why.

It’s hardly through any fault of their own. Leon (Jesse Vakatini) and his younger brother Jasper (Jalen Hewitt) are just kids, locked in the toy-splattered room they share. Mum and dad are having a grown up talk: “About love”, says Leon. “That could take an hour”, replies Jasper, exasperated.

What their parents are talking about – although we never hear them – is his plan to marry Glauce, the daughter of King Creon, while keeping Medea as his mistress.

It’s not going to wash with Medea. She’s in the boys’ room, full of bad tempered mothering: “This room’s a pigsty – clean it up”.

The boys get to work, and so does she. She’s back, with a beautifully wrapped gift she wants to give Glauce. They are fond of their dad’s “friend”, and happily write a sweet card to go with the deadly present.

And then Medea is back again. This time with a blue cordial for her sweet boys.

Medea_prodpix__LR Alexandria Steffensen. Jalen Hewitt and Jesse Vakatini. image credit Philip Gostelow 10
What replaces the awful power of the original is the universal story of children becoming the victims of their parent’s conflicts and passions. Alexandria Steffensen (Medea) Jalen Hewitt (Jasper) and Jesse Vakatini (Leon). Photo: Philip Gostelow.

There’s little concession to the conventions of Greek tragedy in the writing or in Sally Richardson’s direction; there’s no prologue or chorus, and its brutal and effective catharsis – a sudden glimpse through the gates of Medea’s hell – lasts an instant and is gone.

What replaces the awful power of the original is the universal story of children becoming the victims of their parent’s conflicts and passions; we’ve seen it in countless other ordinary places; we will see it again.

The great strength of this Medea is that ordinariness; the boys play with toy guns and swords, they tease and wrestle, they snuggle up under a doona to watch the stars. Medea bustles about in jeans and shifts; she’s a harassed suburban mother with a lot to deal with, and a lot on her mind.

We know them very well. Which makes their fates even more plangent.

Vakatini and Hewitt give winning performances (they alternate with Jack Molloy and Lachlan Ives; the four were cast after an exhaustive process by WA Youth Theatre Compny, who collaborated with Black Swan for this production) and Alexandria Steffensen is convincing as their mother, even if denied the towering power of the classical Medea.

Which is, perhaps, the dilemma for the audience in this production. If you expect the mighty heights of Greek tragedy and the emotional release it engenders, this prosaic Medea may leave you perplexed and disengaged.

There is something in it, though, that reaches out in a more direct, human way. It is no great monument in a temple on the hill; it’s a couple of little wooden crosses with wilted flowers on a verge outside an everyday suburban house.

Not as powerful, perhaps, but more sad.

Medea plays until August 25.

Read a Q&A with director Sally Richardson here.

Pictured top are Jesse Vakatini as Leon and Jalen Hewitt as Jasper. Photo: Philip Gostelow.

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Vivienne Awosoga, David Whitney and Will McDonald in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (c) Clare Hawley
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Much Ado woos the room

Review: Bell Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing ·
State Theatre Centre of WA, 7 August ·
Review by Jan Hallam ·

What a funny night it was. First, there was the sad news that cast member Suzanne Pereira had fallen ill and was in hospital. Then followed the announcement that director James Evans would step into the breach as Antonio.

Two roles, one director’s script, highlighted and annotated to the inch of its life, and, fortuitously, a sharp opening night suit and tie. Designer Pip Runciman could not have ordered better for her clever, compact touring unit.

Did the turn of events have any effect on the safe delivery of Shakespeare’s sharp, dark comedy?

Perhaps the rhythm of the first scene or two felt unsettled and unpredictable with players looking cautiously to their somewhat sweaty boss, ready to counter any signs of faltering. But Bell doesn’t hire hey nonny no ninnies, so the play about love overcoming evil played inexorably on to a room falling madly in love with this performance, and, be still my heart, Shakespeare.

David Whitney, Duncan Ragg and Will McDonald in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (c) Clare Hawley
David Whitney (Leonato), Duncan Ragg (Benedick) and Will McDonald (Claudio).  Photo: Clare Hawley.

Evans, in his day job, has presented a thought-provoking production of a play that sends a shaft of horror down this reviewer’s spine. It is a complex discussion on what was true 420 years ago (its first outing was in 1599) and is, horrifically, true today – some men (meaning many men in this patriarchy of ours) view with suspicion and defensiveness women who are cleverer than them, and with ownership – lustful or otherwise – whenever the mood takes them. Somewhere in between there’s patronising dismissiveness.

These discourses are played out by the raking down of Hero, a young, vibrant heiress who is wooed by a Duke on behalf of one of his young officers, then consequently gifted to Claudio by an apparently doting father.

You see the problem immediately. On this occasion, Hero is pretty smitten with the idea of hitching up to Claudio. What else is she to do with her life?

Duncan Ragg and Zindzi Okenyo in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (c) Clare Hawley
Think Bogey and Bacall: Duncan Ragg as Benedick and Zindzi Okenyo as Beatrice. Photo: Clare Hawley

Then there’s the sparring, prickling, mouthy love developing between Hero’s cousin Beatrice (Shakespeare’s version of a muted but still untamed shrew) and Benedick, the Duke’s go-to-guy for good times.

Here is the model of true love, for what it’s worth. Witness Bea (a fiery Zindzi Okenyo) and Ben (a jestering Duncan Ragg) and you see how ideal coupledom will be represented in literature and theatre (and subsequently other mediums) down the ages, think Bogey and Bacall, Hepburn and Tracey.

The play gives space for these two couplings to circle and swirl, mirror and pervert, question and confirm the combative nature of relationships we have had to endure for centuries.

Enter Don John, the resident evil. A sulking, skulking bastard brother to the Duke, who hates all this laughing and goo-ing and wooing highlighting his miserable non-state, so he plots to destroy Hero’s reputation for no other reason than he can.

The tragic outrage of this single act of evil is that the other men in this play enable him to succeed. He is believed and Hero is not. He’s a man, she is so very obviously not.

This is where the Evans’ production steps out of a traditional rendering of Hero as the helpless, swooning victim.

Vivienne Awosoga’s Hero is mad, boiling mad. She does not accept her fate as fallen woman without first serving it up to her morally frail lover and her father who has turned so easily from doting to damning.

From this distance, it may be at the expense of Beatrice’s primacy as exemplar of the warrior woman. Her injunction to Benedick to avenge the wrong inflicted on her cousin falls flat. Her fabulous line, that if she were a man, she would eat Claudio’s heart in the marketplace, seems a little empty given her cousin skinned him alive in the previous scene.

Marissa Bennett and Mandy Bishop in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (c) Clare Hawley
Mandy Bishop is exquisitely unstable as Dogberry. She is pictured here with Marissa Bennett (Verges). Photo: Clare Hawley.

Where the anger leaves off, there’s the comedy and this production exploits it to the last giggle. Special mention must be made of Mandy Bishop’s exquisitely unstable constable, Dogberry, worth the entrance price alone. Ragg is a stand-up natural, and his Benedick woos the audience at times with more enthusiasm than the girlfriend. He probably needs to watch that. It might not end well for him.

These are merely ruminations. This production is such a lot of fun and the opening night audience was transported to a happy place, reviewer included. That’s until you turn out the light and remember the horror you have just paid witness to – and to which we are all complicit.

Perfect Shakespeare.

Bell Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing plays the State Theatre Centre of WA until August 10.

Pictured top: Vivienne Awosoga as Hero, David Whitney as Leonato and Will McDonald as Claudio. Photo: Clare Hawley.

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Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Firing the senses

Review: Bangarra Dance Theatre, “30 years of sixty five thousand” ·
State Theatre Centre of WA, 31 July ·
Review by Jo Pickup ·

“We are the books of yesterday”.

These were amongst the words spoken by Balladong Noongar artist Barry McGuire in his welcoming address to the audience at the premiere of Bangarra Dance Theatre’s Perth season “30 years of sixty five thousand”.

Indeed, on opening night, the bodies of 17 Bangarra dancers pulsed with stories of both ancient and more recent pasts, as they performed three works specially chosen by the company’s Artistic Director Stephen Page to comprise the company’s thirtieth anniversary season.

The three works are Unaipon (2004) by former Bangarra dancer-turned-choreographer Frances Rings; Stamping Ground (1983) by internationally renowned Czech choreographer Jiří Kylián, and to make fire, a 40 minute work comprised of various memorable moments from the company’s repertoire as chosen by Stephen Page.

Tyrel Dulvarie in 'Unaipon'. Photo: Daniel Boud.
Tyrel Dulvarie in ‘Unaipon’. Photo: Daniel Boud.

Firstly, Unaipon. This is a work inspired by Aboriginal inventor and philosopher David Unaipon, a Ngarrindjeri man whose face now appears on the Australian $50 note. At first, Unaipon’s score (composed by the late David Page), resonates with mellifluous orchestral string sounds. Five male dancers clad in bright orange pants soon appear and zigzag across the stage, sliding and stretching between long elastic strings which are pulled taut like a clothesline across the width of the space.

The dancers expertly weave themselves through this maze creating small geometric kaleidoscopes at intermittent intervals. The music also builds into impressive patterns and layers that include rattling, stick tapping and deep electronic beats. The small ensemble of performers move with effortless strength and vitality, though dancer Beau Dean Riley Smith is particularly captivating here. At particular moments his physical presence eclipses his band of brothers; his unique series of flexes and strikes are achieved with remarkable precision.

As more dancers enter the stage, the work progresses to scenes of male-female duets and cyclical stage patterning. By the end, we seem to have been taken into a world of an individual whose life was layered with complex questions of identity. Through Rings’s choreography; Page’s sound score; Peter England’s set design and Nick Schlieper’s lighting, certain aspects of Unaipon’s life as a traditional Ngarrindjeri man, a man raised by a white family, and a man who was a devout Christian are drawn out in poetic and, at times, highly abstract style.

Ryan Pearson,Tyrel Dulvarie, Ella Havelka in 'Stamping Ground'. Photo: Daniel Boud.
Ryan Pearson, Tyrel Dulvarie, Ella Havelka in ‘Stamping Ground’. Photo: Daniel Boud.

This complex intertwining of different cultures and beliefs also imbues Jiří Kylián’s iconic work Stamping Ground. This piece was created in the early eighties after Kylián travelled from Europe to Northern Australia to experience a massive corroboree at Groote Eylandt. The result is a fascinating window into Kylian’s creative mind and curious spirit. To see Kylian’s response to these traditional, ceremonial Aboriginal dances, expressed through his signature balletic, yet boundary-pushing modern dance style was very interesting. Aesthetically stripped back and minimalist, the six dancers in this work (three male, three female), performed Kylian’s both profound and playful visions in dynamic fashion on opening night. Especially impressive was the performance of soloist Baden Hitchcock. His leaps were magnificent, his landings silent and controlled. Throughout the work, though especially in his opening solos, he moved with a mesmerising eloquence that was almost breathtaking and left a deep impression.

And lastly, to make fire. As a selection of best-bits and moving moments Bangarra’s archive over the past thirty years, on the whole, the piece seemed subtle in its choices. However (and almost as an admonishment for such an observation) its closing scene comes up trumps. A circle of dancers in white dust lie on a darkened stage until a moment of awakening. This waking instant is dramatic, enlivening and stirring. Yes, Bangarra continues to fire our senses in its power to connect us to the strength inherent in Aboriginal culture and stories, and “30 Years of Sixty Five Thousand” is a nourishing reminder of that.

Bangarra Dance Theatre’s “30 Years of Sixty Five Thousand” plays until August 3.

Pictured top: Courtney Radford, Tyrel Dulvarie and Gusta Mara in ‘to make fire’. Photo: Daniel Boud.

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