A man hold a woman across his lap
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 Poirer), 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 Poirer 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.

Poirer 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.

Please follow and like us:
News, Performing arts, Perth Festival, Physical theatre, Reviews, Theatre

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

Please follow and like us:
News, Performing arts, Perth Festival, Reviews, Theatre

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.

Please follow and like us:
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.

Please follow and like us:
Fully Sikh
Calendar, October 19, Performing arts, Theatre

Theatre: Fully Sikh

10 – 27 October @ The State Theatre Centre of WA ·
Presented by Black Swan State Theatre Company
and Barking Gecko Theatre Company ·

Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa shot to fame in Australia and around the world with her poetry on Australia’s Got Talent. But before she went viral, Sukhjit was a brown, hairy Sikh girl growing up in the suburbs of Perth.

Fully Sikh is her story. The show is a hilarious and heartfelt poetic procession through Sukhjit’s life, her family and her faith, all told with her trademark lyrical flow. Fully Sikh will be a sensory feast for audiences, full of music, dance, poetry and food. As the first Aussie Sikh story to hit our stages, this is unique and unmissable.

Suitability: 12+

Book via www.bsstc.com.au

More info:
www.bsstc.com.au/plays/fully-sikh
www.facebook.com/BlackSwanStateTheatreCompany
twitter.com/blackswanstc
instagram.com/blackswanstc/
vimeo.com/blackswanstc

Please follow and like us:
Black is the New White
Calendar, Performing arts, September 19, Theatre

Theatre: Black is the New White

11 – 22 September @ The State Theatre Centre of WA ·
Black Swan presents A Sydney Theatre Company Production ·

Black is The New White by Nakkiah Lui

Prepare to be enthralled by a razor sharp romantic comedy that blends Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner with Meet the Fockers. At the centre is Charlotte Gibson, a lawyer with a brilliant career ahead of her. As her father Ray says, she could be the next female Indigenous Waleed Aly.

But she has other ideas. First of all, it’s Christmas. Second of all, she’s in love. The thing is, her fiancé, Francis Smith, is not what her family expected – he’s unemployed, he’s an experimental composer … and he’s white! Inviting him and his conservative parents to Christmas is a bold move that has all sorts of unintended consequences.

Adult themes, nudity
Suitability: 16+

Book via www.bsstc.com.au 

More info:
www.bsstc.com.au/plays/black-is-the-new-white
www.facebook.com/BlackSwanStateTheatreCompany
twitter.com/blackswanstc
instagram.com/blackswanstc/
vimeo.com/blackswanstc

Please follow and like us:
The Torrents
Calendar, June 19, Performing arts, Theatre

Theatre: The Torrents

15 – 30 June @ The State Theatre Centre of WA ·
Presented by Black Swan State Theatre Company & Sydney Theatre Company ·

It’s the 1890s in the Goldfields. J.G. Milford has hopped off the train in the small town of Koolgalla to take on a job at the local paper. She’s smart, she’s savvy, she’s incredibly qualified, but nobody knew the J stood for Jenny! Oriel Gray’s The Torrents is a newsroom comedy that rivals George Bernard Shaw. Jenny’s arrival coincides with a trailblazing engineer’s outrageous idea to bring irrigation to the community and debate rages about whether the town should give up mining for a more sustainable economic future.

Adult themes: Suitability 12+

Book via www.bsstc.com.au

More info:
www.bsstc.com.au/plays/the-torrents
www.facebook.com/BlackSwanStateTheatreCompany
twitter.com/blackswanstc
instagram.com/blackswanstc/
vimeo.com/blackswanstc

 

Please follow and like us:
Water
Calendar, May 19, Performing arts, Theatre

Theatre: Water

9 – 26 May @ State Theatre Centre of WA ·
Presented by Black Swan State Theatre Company ·

Water by Jane Bodie begins in Western Australia in the not-too-distant future, where we meet with a once powerful politician about to celebrate his birthday at the family’s island home – a retreat from the world that has clearly seen better days. There’s no water in the taps, there are no birds in the sky and to top it off, an unexpected guest arrives for dinner.

WARNING: Adult themes

Book via www.bsstc.com.au

More info:
www.bsstc.com.au/plays/water

Please follow and like us:
You Know We Belong Together
Calendar, March 19, Performing arts, Theatre

Theatre: You Know We Belong Together

20 – 31 March @ State Theatre Centre of WA ·
Presented by Black Swan Theatre, Perth Festival & DADAA ·

You Know We Belong Together by Julia Hales with Finn O’Branagáin and Clare Watson

Following the sold-out success of the 2018 world premiere of You Know We Belong Together, we are thrilled to present an encore season of this joyful celebration of community spirit.

You Know We Belong Together is a story of love; that force of nature that strikes like lightning into our hearts. Family, friends and lovers are all part of Julia Hales’ deeply personal account of her experiences as a daughter, actor, dreamer and person with Down syndrome. She brings with her the voices and aspirations of a community rarely seen on stage in an uplifting performance with video, dance and song.

Book via www.bsstc.com.au

More info:
www.bsstc.com.au/plays/you-know-we-belong-together

 

Please follow and like us:
Three actors dressed in costume for The Gruffalo's Child
Children, News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

Joyful storytelling in Gruffalo sequel

Review: CDP Theatre Producers, The Gruffalo’s Child ·
State Theatre Centre of WA, Heath Ledger Theatre, November 21 ·
Review: Robert Housley ·

Toddler tears in less than five minutes and pierced chambers of the inner ear from a crying baby could not douse the enjoyment of The Gruffalo’s Child, a slick production from accomplished touring company CDP Theatre Producers.

Nor could it dampen the enthusiasm of its wonderfully cohesive cast, comprising Jade Paskins, Madison Hegarty and Skyler Ellis.

It was just another day at the office for children’s theatre targeted at the 3+ age group, as it was for accompanying parents and grandparents.

Oh, for the afternoon sleep.

For the most part the whipper-snappers were just as fixated on this stage adaptation of the immensely popular eponymous children’s book as they have been on the book itself (and as they were on The Gruffalo, of which this book and production are sequels). My neighbouring grandmother and her four-year-old grandson even brought the hard copy sequel along for a quick read before the show.

The real joy of this production is in its story telling, with whip-smart direction from Olivia Jacobs (with associate director Liesel Badorrek) moving the action along at a pace to keep the youngsters engaged.

The cast also fill their roles perfectly. Paskin’s Child beautifully captures the essence of the Gruffalo’s inquisitive daughter on her plight to find the Big Bad Mouse in the Deep Dark Wood.

Hegarty deftly plays narrative guide, wafting through the play with sound effects and movement, and joining in the occasional ensemble songs (music and lyrics by Jon Fiber and Andy Shaw; additional lyrics by Olivia Jacobs and Robin Price; choreographer Morag Cross; associate choreographer Luanna Priestman).

Ellis steals the show somewhat, in an actor’s dream role, playing multiple characters from the snoring Gruffalo to the salesman Fox. His radical change of voice for each character and the stunning companion costumes show both his considerable talent and that of designer Isla Shaw (puppet design by Yvonne Stone).

Like all of the best children’s theatre, the kids are encouraged to be part of the action in this production, and Wednesday’s audience spontaneously complied: clapping, singing and generally responding to invitations to get involved.

The simple set of truncated, leafless trees is seamlessly modified to accommodate the various scenes and disguise the numerous on-stage costume changes.

Lighting changes (design by James Whiteside) are kept to a minimum throughout so the kids can see all of the action all of the time while not making the Deep Dark Wood so deep or so dark.

Sleep, little one, sleep.

The Gruffalo’s Child is performed until December 2.

Junior review ·
Review by Isabel Greentree, age 9 ·

Many children may have read the story of The Gruffalo’s Child or seen the movie, but none are like this amazing stage performance. CDP Theatre Producers’ musical version of The Gruffalo’s Child, directed by Olivia Jacobs and performed by Madison Hegarty, Skyler Ellis and Jade Paskins, is a fun-filled hour of entertainment.

At the start, three children are playing in the snow and they begin to tell a scary story about the Gruffalo, but are interrupted by some loud snores. We meet the Gruffalo and his child when he is telling her a story about the Big Bad Mouse. He gives her the Stick Man to give her courage. When he is asleep, the Gruffalo’s Child tries to play hide and seek with the Stick Man but eventually gets bored and sets out on an adventure to find the Big Bad Mouse.

She meets several animals including the Snake (throwing a party), the Owl (giving flying lessons) and the Fox (trying to sell everything). Each meeting with an animal involves a song. In the end, the Gruffalo’s Child meets a mouse who tells her he is a friend of the Big Bad Mouse and manages to scare her away.

The set included spooky trees with branches shaped like long fingers. There was a wide yellow moon behind the trees, glowing gently. The costumes were clever and effective.

My favourite part was when the mouse nearly wakes up the Gruffalo with her squeaking. I also enjoyed the way the Gruffalo’s Child could never quite keep up with the dancing. There were lots of jokes and funny parts for adults and children alike. The very young children in the audience really enjoyed it too. I really liked the play and think it is suitable for all ages. Go and see it while you can!

The Gruffalo’s Child is performed until December 2.

 

Photo: Heidrun Lohr

 

 

Please follow and like us: