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Category Archives: ANU Arts Centre

Death and the Maiden

death-and-the-maidenI’ve heard of Death and the Maiden for many years, but I had never seen it, so it was fitting that my first exposure to it occurred at the ANU Drama Lab, where I enjoyed so many lectures as an undergraduate (and a member of NUTS). I really had no idea what I was missing: what a thrilling little psychodrama it turned out to be!

Though it is set in the aftermath of Augusto Pinochet’s removal as president of Chile, it deals with universal themes of forgiveness and the pursuit of justice. Dorfman’s script is astutely sparse, leaving a lot of room for creatives to work these themes through.

And Sammy Moynihan has taken on that challenge admirably.

This production is suitably spartan, with white walls allowing for characters to play in the shadows throughout, a perfect symbol for their shadowy dealings and the uncertainty of their histories. In this era of dodgy dealings and questionable political machinations throughout the Anglosphere, this play is eerily relevant, and mildly disturbing.

Daniel Greiss gives a stand-out performance as Roberto in this production. He manages to elicit pathos without quite nailing down his innocence (or otherwise) for the audience. Georgia-Cate Westcott’s Paulina is suitably unstable and unnerving, and Regis Hiljekamp, as her husband Gerardo, meets her unbalanced mind with unnerving appropriateness and an increasing imbalance of his own.

While the timing was off for lighting changes and occasionally for dialogue, the cast maintained an air of uncertainty, aided impeccably by a spectacular string quartet directed by Enrica Wong. Actually, even if it weren’t for Dorfman’s script and some lovely performances, this production would be worth the effort just to hear the quartet.

This is an impressive production for NUTS, and I’m glad I got to see it.

 

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How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

It never ceases to amaze me how often producers of musicals in Canberra select the most horrible musical in the canon and then cast highly-experienced and impeccable performers to work with expert crews to try in vain to turn the sow’s ear into a silk purse. I’m sorry, but I’ve already lost more than eight hours of my life to Cats, and if too many of my friends hear that someone’s doing it again this year, I will feel obliged to go along and sacrifice another four to that worthless tray of kitty litter that continues to blight our theatres. Thankfully, Phoenix Players have taken almost the opposite approach with the show I saw tonight.

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is a gem from that time when Broadway and Hollywood were genuinely in sync and both knew how to tell a story. In its script we meet lovable, hilarious characters who drive a generously funny plot forward with all the vim and vigour of Russell Crowe‘s interactions with service industry staff.

Chatting to first-time director, Richard Block, after the show, I was surprised to learn how many of the cast and crew were also first-timers. While there might have been the occasional glimpse of this, for the most part, these theatre virgins gave great performances led by Adrian ‘flawless’ Flor in the role of J. Pierpont Finch.

For me, the highlight of the night was definitely the rendition of Been a Long Day, which was simply charming, and really showed off the calibre of vocalists and actors this show boasts in Adrian Flor, Vanessa De Jager and Hannah Wood. The performance of this number was impeccable, not only for its vocal qualities but also because it was the only moment in the show when I felt genuinely engrossed in the moment and the characters’ experience rather than the writers’ conceit.

Unfortunately, no matter how much I enjoyed the performances of this very successful cast and their hilarious story, the misogyny of the three blokes who wrote it was never far from my mind. I have heard it said that it is a comedy, and should be interpreted as a mockery of sexist attitudes, but if there is any intention of this, it simply isn’t clear enough to allay my repulsion. Even at the time the play was written, the feminist movement was close to a century old, and it seems odd in such an age for chauvinism to be so firmly embraced, and made funny without really being mocked. So as much as I enjoy the show, its beautifully human story and its humour, the values it espouses just undermine my attempts to fully engage with its characters and their experience.

So, I have a bit of a mixed response to How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. On the one hand, I think it’s a great musical, carefully constructed, with excellent music (and comparable lyrics) and it’s absolutely hilarious. On the other, I find it difficult to concentrate on the humour in the presence of such misogyny! I guess I may just take things too seriously for my own good. Regardless of my indecision, though, Phoenix Players’ production is a romp, and certainly one of the best choices of musical any musical production company in Canberra has made in the last decade.

 

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Avenue Q

I think it was family loyalty that took me along to Avenue Q. That, and some pretty high recommendations on Facebook and She Who Must Be Obeyed telling me to go see it while I still had the chance. Honestly, the idea of yet another bit of children’s pop culture being appropriated for the adult market just wasn’t appealing.

But in true Canberra musical theatre style, our ‘amateurs’ have redeemed a rather dry book and presented something truly spectacular. Technically, it was almost faultless. Apart from a few occasions when I couldn’t hear the words over the band, I was blown away by how great these guys sounded. And it was a tiny band too; all I could see were two keys, two strings and a hitter who had plenty of space to rattle about in the pit.

The kudos, though, goes to a great cast, most of whom had to learn to control two bodies rather than the usual one. And it was fun just to observe as an audient that at first I had to keep reminding myself to look at the puppet rather than the actor! In time they blended, which just made the whole puppet/puppeteer thing work so well. At least in individual scenes it did.

As a whole show, though, Avenue Q just doesn’t hold together very well. Whose story is this? What is it about? And why couldn’t they just pick a story and stick with it? There are some interesting characters here that really deserve better treatment! But that’s musical writers for you; most couldn’t see a story if it played itself out on a stage in front of them!

I think, really, Avenue Q is a musical trying to be cutting edge and funny at the same time. It only succeeds in the latter, and occasionally fails at that because it’s trying to be cutting edge. Does that make sense? Probably not, but I know what I mean. And whatever it’s failings, Supa‘s cast and crew have outdone themselves. I had a ball.

 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 28 September 2011 in ANU Arts Centre, Canberra Theatre, Supa Productions, Theatre

 

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All Shook Up

All Shook Up is a take on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, in case you didn’t know. I knew, and I think I missed half the show trying to figure out which characters corresponded to which Twelfth Night characters. Why did I do that?
As we have come to expect from Supa, All Shook Up is a great show that doesn’t ask a lot of its audience. We joined the blue rinse set for today’s matinee. It’s not normally a good idea to go to a matinee, the audiences are usually a bit flat, and the performers suffer for it. This was probably true today, and yet what struck me was the technical precision displayed by the cast. Under the musical direction of Garrick Smith, the principal cast gave stunning performances of many of Elvis Presley’s most popular songs, supported by an equally impressive ensemble.
It was a great show, although not a patch on Supa’s recent productions of Buddy. It could have something to do with the music, but I think maybe I’m just a little too young to appreciate it the way the rest of the audience, who were mostly twice my age, did. It’s a good show, but for my tastes it needed a little less sugar.
 
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Posted by on Saturday, 23 May 2009 in ANU Arts Centre, Canberra Theatre, Theatre

 

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