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Short+Sweet Canberra 2013 (Week 2)

20130812 Short+Sweet 074asOkay, so it’s been a while since it ended, but I’m finally writing about Short+Sweet Week 2. Partly, this was because since the end of the festival I have been rather overwhelmed with family duties, but I also needed some time to lick my wounds.

So though neither of my plays got much attention, they were in some great company. Nothing really stood a chance of outstripping Last Drinks; Greg Gould’s catchy and trim script coupled with Margaret Allen’s taut direction and the impeccable timing of Caroline O’Brien and Jett Black were a force to be reckoned with.

Another very amusing piece was Good Cop Mad Cop, which I also enjoyed thoroughly. Paulene Turner’s clever script was performed energetically by Helen Way, Jonathan Garland, Paul Hutchison and Elizabeth Lamb.

Ruth Pieloor wrote and performed Vanity Insanity, with the support of Catherine Hagarty as director. Though very funny, this piece dealt beautifully with notions of self esteem and ageing, and I enjoyed it every time.

I never tired of seeing Paul Hutchison’s Bendigo Banjo Sails the Day, either. This piece could not be entered into the competition since a director had been unavailable and Kate Gaul, the Festival Director, salvaged it to ensure it was performed. We were all glad she did, as it was a great way to begin a great night of performances.

But the piece that truly moved me most was Written in Stone, written and directed by Evan Croker. This was one of the Wildcards that got through to the final, so not really a Week 2 play, but I found myself intrigued by it. The performances were great, the script is brilliant, and the play really deserved more recognition in the final than it got.

So that’s it for another year… though the Merimbula festival is less than a month away, and Melbourne follows soon after that and before you know it Sydney will be happening! And while all of that goes on, Crash Test Drama will surely keep us entertained! Many thanks to everyone for a great festival, and well done to all the winners!

 

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Les Misérables

les miserablesJust quietly, I think Canberra Philharmonic have outdone themselves with their latest rendering of a classic musical. I mean, it’s nothing terribly innovative, the staging is much what you’d expect for any other rendition of Les Misérables, and the set, while pleasant, goes through a few clunky moments. But the performances drawn out of these ‘amateur’ performers is nothing short of spectacular.

Dave Smith’s Valjean is a perfect match for Adrian Flor’s Javert, and the two milk Schönberg and Boulbil’s book for every hyper-sentimental note it’s worth. Their energy and focus, while admirable, is upstaged by other principals, particularly Kelly Roberts’ Fantine, Mat Chardon O’Dea’s Marius, Laura Dawson’s Cosette and Vanessa de Jager’s Eponine. Their energy filled Erindale’s cavernous auditorium, and they must be finding the run absolutely gruelling. The rest of the cast are pretty impressive too, on the whole.

I found the performance on the whole moving, and the staging, while predicable, was solid. The orchestra, though it needed to be hidden under a fully extended stage, was in fine form.

The whole evening hangs together beautifully, as evidenced by the full standing ovation with which this late-run audience honoured the splendid cast and crew. This is a great night out, and you’ve got one more week in which to get along and see it.

 
 

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Look Back in Anger

Ten pound Poms let out of the nursing home may enjoy a trip down memory lane with Paris Hat’s production of Look Back in Anger, but there is much more to this play for those of us who didn’t live through post-war England. This is an opportunity to experience a first-rate performance of a play that was pivotal in the development of modern theatre…

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 

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Jazz Garters

Well, I’ve finally done it. More than twelve years after moving to Canberra, I have finally been to one of Rep’s winter variety shows. I recall that it was originally recommended to me in 1998 as an undergraduate beginning a Theatre Studies major at the ANU, as an excellent example of the music hall tradition, so there’s something bittersweet in having finally attended in the same week that the ANU’s Theatre Studies major met its demise.

The cast certainly delivers. After a slightly flat first half, which could be put down to opening night, the second was quite magical. Ian Croker’s rendition of Minnie the Moocher got the audience engaged, and Christine Forbes followed this with a beautifully theatrical The Girl from 14G, about which she bragged that she was overjoyed to be able to wear her pyjamas on stage!

I felt my personal cringe factor rise when we were informed that the finale was to be a rendition of Peter Allen‘s perfectly horrid canticle I Still Call Australia Home, but it dissipated completely with the cast’s magnificent send-up of the song’s overwrought history.

A variety show stands or falls on the energy of its cast, and this cast certainly works hard for their applause. After a flat start, the energy flowed and made Jazz Garters a fun and entertaining show, well worth a night out.

 
 

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Richard III

In Richard III, Shakespeare has left us one of the greatest challenges to the willing suspension of disbelief ever created; Richard is a foul and loathsome character, and yet every time I see the play, I am amazed at how much sympathy I have for the detestable excuse for a human being I am presented with. Everyman Theatre has left me in this state yet again.

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 
 

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Krapp’s Last Tape

Opening at Tuggeranong Arts Centre, Krapp’s Last Tapeis one of Samuel Beckett’s more well-known plays.

Sitting, as I am, and contemplating what I want to say about Krapp’s Last Tape, I think about commenting on the set, the actor’s performance, the lighting, the direction; but all of that seems to undermine this play. This is a story about a man who made a decision decades ago, and whose existence is not haunted, but shaped by the consequences of that decision. And nothing matters more than that character.
Of course, the design elements have to be properly balanced, or the character won’t be visible. Ian Croker’s set, Jack Lloyd’s lighting, and Len Power’s sound design are as important as Graham Robertson’s performance, but all of these must be properly balanced, and nod gently to the presence of Beckett’s ‘hero’. I think this is the great strength of this production. All of these design elements are indeed balanced perfectly, giving the audience perfect access to the character.
I had read Krapp’s Last Tape many years ago, and enjoyed it at the time. Like any of Beckett’s work, it is difficult to read, but it absolutely sings when a performer embodies it. Graham Robertson is a veteran of the Canberra stage, and as one would expect, he brings Beckett’s miserable Krapp to life. His engrossing performance is punctuated with perfect delivery of Beckett’s dry humour.
I will argue to my dying day that the use of the word ‘absurd’ to describe Beckett’s world view is absurd. He is a logician, and his work epitomises logic. It might baffle a person who tries to read it, but in performance Beckett’s work is simplicity itself. And Krapp is a superb example of Beckett’s magnificent capacity to tell a story. Nothing beats that.
 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 29 July 2009 in Tuggeranong Arts Centre

 

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Deathtrap

Canberra Repertory opened Deathtrap tonight. A comedy about an ageing playwright ready to kill to get what he wants.
What I found most interesting about Deathtrap was its style. This is a play by an Australian playwright, written in the late 1970s, and very much set in that time and place; but it has all the hallmarks of an excellent British comedy from the 1960s. The madcap humour, dialogue almost entirely dependent on wit, and a very conventional structure, all mark this play as something other than what it is, and were I not aware that it was an Australian play, I would have assumed it wasn’t, despite the references to Sydney’s northern suburbs.
It is a lot of fun: one of those plays that you could well come away from with a sore belly from all the laughing. I didn’t, though. Maybe the timing was a bit off due to opening night nerves, or maybe I just like a little more meat on characters’ bones than Levin provides, but it was good.
 
 

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I Hate Hamlet

I love going to Theatre 3. There is magic in the place. I don’t care that the decor is old and tired, I only ever notice it for a moment, because before long you feel the atmosphere of genuine theatre lovers mingling and engaging, like Liberals in the Press Club or bikies in a pub. This was what it was like at Theatre 3 last night, especially straight after the curtain went down on the opening performance of I Hate Hamlet.

The plot revolves around Andrew, a successful television soap actor from Los Angeles, who relocates to New York after having agreed to play Hamlet in a non-profit production in Central Park. Problems arise when he reveals that he hates Hamlet, and mainly agreed to play the role because of his girlfriend’s love for the play. Fortuitously, the ghost of the late, great actor Barrymore, who once occupied Andrew’s gothic apartment and played Hamlet, can return to mentor Andrew through the process of preparing for the most important role of his life.

A couple of the people I spoke to afterwards expressed the same surprise I had; why had I not heard of this play? It was written way back in 1991, and is such an astute and passionate exploration of our attitudes towards Shakespeare that it shocks me to think that it isn’t part of the curriculum of every university’s theatre department. It looks quite deeply into the psyche of the greatest play of all time while still retaining a modern view that is unencumbered by social expectations about how we should view the bard. In short, it is respectful without being reverential. It treats the way society hallows Shakespeare with ridicule, while still holding a deep and profound respect for the man’s humanity, wisdom and power.

When I first started my academic careerafter dropping out of high school and bumming around dead end jobs for a few yearsone of the first pieces of literature from the English Canon that I encountered was Hamlet. I struggled with it, and came to some kind of understanding of it, rudimentary as it was. Over the years my love for the play has deepened. In the twelve years since first reading it I have seen more than ten stage productions and every film I could clap my eyes on, and I have never been disappointed by modern theatre practitioners’ capacity to glean some new kernel of wisdom from the pages. Just like Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, I Hate Hamlet further unpacks Shakespeare’s story, treating it as a living, breathing work of art rather than a museum piece.

Canberra Repertory’s production is simply brilliant, with the considerable talents and experience of Ian Croker in the role of Barrymore admirably matched by my old university classmate Glenn Brown as Andrew. Their swordfight was so much fun that I found found it difficult to resist the urge to get up and join in! The entire cast carries off the production brilliantly, with excellent comic timing (perhaps with a couple of hiccups that I am putting down to opening night), brilliant wit, and impeccable characterisation.

Now all I need is a show I can audition for with a sword fight…

 
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Posted by on Friday, 20 February 2009 in William Shakespeare

 

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Cosi

We went last night to the opening of Cosi, which was a great affair, as you would expect. Cosi is the story of a young graduate sent to direct a play with a group of patients at a mental asylum. Funny enough as a situation comedy, but Louis Nowra has deftly wound broad humour around a story about the importance of love over politics.
In this production, the comedy outshines the potentially didactic moralising, just as it should, and as a result, the moral stands on its merits, couched in comfortably broad Australian humour.

Bringing classics to the stage is what Canberra Rep does best, and when you stage something that is as well-known as an enjoyable play as Louis Nowra’s Cosi, you get to pick from the best actors Canberra has to offer. That’s what happened here, and it’s one of the main reasons this show is so enjoyable. This is a spectacular cast, and every nuance of Nowra’s characters is instinctively brought to life. They enjoy the show even more than the audience, I’m sure; and even with a few members of the cast needing to work hard to stifle a laugh now and then, they never missed a beat. Who can blame them? After working so hard to deliver the comedy of Nowra’s lines, to finally have an audience roar into laughter is a rewarding experience.

Canberra Rep’s Cosi is simply one of the best nights out you’ll find.
 
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Posted by on Friday, 21 November 2008 in Canberra Repertory Society, Canberra Theatre, Theatre

 

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Pygmalion

Busy as I am, I took the last chance I would have to see Canberra Repertory’s Pygmalion, and I am glad I did. Living up to their excellent reputation, Rep presented a thoughtful and challenging piece of theatre.

Often, a great set and spectacular costumes simply make the performers look dull, as happened with Opera Australia’s My Fair Lady, but not so in this case. A beautifully modern set, clearly a product of 21st century mentality, served as a symbolic gesture to this early 20th century story, complementing the costumes beautifully; and the cast earned every part of it.
As always, accents are a problem with this story. Accents are a difficult thing in theatre, and Shaw does no one any favours by writing a play that is absolutely centred on accent. Jessica Brent’s Lisson Grove dialect was acceptable, and her recieved pronunciation was appropriately awkward. Other characters, however, had no excuse for sounding stilted. The production, nonetheless, survives its slowness, the pathos of Shaw’s characters shining through in the second act just as it should, and the awkwardness of Shaw’s ending was deftly handled.
I really liked this production. Maybe I was just relieved that the cast had taken the time to understand the characters, unlike the cast of My Fair Lady. It was slow, but didn’t drag. It was awkward, but even that was appropriate. In all, a great show.
 
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Posted by on Saturday, 4 October 2008 in Canberra Repertory Society, Canberra Theatre, Theatre

 

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