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Rent

RentEveryman Theatre has opened a fine production of a modern classic at the Courtyard.

The story of a group of impoverished friends struggling to make their name in New York under the shadow of HIV/AIDS, Rent is among the longest-running Broadway musicals, having been performed at the Nederlander Theatre from 1996 to 2008. Its historical significance (both social and theatrical) is great, and it is starting to show its age, with a few obscure lines now highlighting the changes that have come about in western society’s responses to HIV/AIDS and homosexuality in the last decade. It remains, however, a very poignant story, highly developed in character and plot; qualities that are extremely rare in musical theatre.

It can’t be denied that Rent is a big show. Nothing about it is intimate; its themes are as lofty as its music is histrionic. And its characters, while well-developed, are nonetheless representatives of archetypes more than they are individual personae. So to squeeze this vast musical into the Courtyard at the Canberra Theatre Centre is a curious choice. Perhaps it is the bite…

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 
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Posted by on Thursday, 6 December 2012 in Canberra Theatre, Everyman Theatre, Musical Theatre, Theatre

 

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Short+Sweet Canberra 2012 (Week 2)

Week 2 of the Short+Sweet Top 20 began in a very different fashion from the usual festival, with Joe Woodward sitting in a bath wearing a pair of angel’s wings and philosophising about the great question. It was a great start to a great evening of theatre, and I’ll admit I did get a little sentimental.

Short+Sweet really lends itself to great moments. The performance quality varies and the scripts are incredibly diverse, but even when the plays don’t live up to what you might hope for, there is often something that emerges statue-like from the stack. It puts me in mind of Patrick White’s metaphor of a squirming mass of eels from The Ham Funeral (if you haven’t read it, do yourself a favour).

Some moments are hilarious, and others are poignant, but in my mind they end up in a montage that makes me feel like I’ve witnessed a single, epic masterpiece. It’s those transcendent moments that make the trivial meaningful.

Ruth Pieloor’s caricature of the prime minister in For the Love of Their Country might have been the performance of the festival. Often I use the word caricature to denigrate sub-par performances, but Pieloor’s observance, emulation and emphasis of Julia Gillard’s mannerisms and very unique vocal qualities was identifiable, amusing and wonderfully distinct. It was caricature of the highest order, which is very difficult to achieve in live theatre.
I was similarly impressed by one of my former classmates from the ANU, Sam Hannan-Morrow, in The Brett I Haven’t Met. Simon Tolhurst could have directed his script in a very different way, with more direct action (as I understand it had been done in The Logues), but it would have lost the raw engagement with the audience that Hannon-Morrow was able to deliver.

There were a few moments, though, when I just wanted to get up and fix things. I loved Remy Coll and Sam Floyd’s concept for Insecurity Guard, and despite a couple of points where the dialogue didn’t quite carry the action, it has a pretty good script, but it really needed a director who wasn’t on stage. These two vey talented performers managed very well, but they needed that extra punch of clarity that an observing director provides.

There is no question that the final moment of the festival, the performance of Genevieve Kenneally’s Ah! was an inspired choice for that particular slot. The energy of Kiki Skountzos, Riley Bell and Elizabeth McRae was precisely what was needed at the end of such a varied night, but the highlight in my book was Smart Jimmy Slow Bob. Greg Gould’s great script was brilliantly delivered by a spectacular cast (Bradley Freeman as the unconscious boy was particularly impressive, I didn’t detect a breath!).

Everyone involved in this festival deserves a pat on the back, not just those I’ve tapped out some words about. Short+Sweet is a unique event in the annual calendar, and I hope it’s a permanent one. What impresses me is where the different people involved in the festival come from. Theatre folk whose paths don’t cross find themselves in the same dressing room for four nights in a row, and that can only be good for our theatre community. And of course with opportunities for those who prefer pure theatre to musical theatre dwindling, it is a particularly important event.

I have two scripts finished (at least to first draft stage) for the 2013 festival, and I hope the wonderful people who made this festival such a great success are around next year.

 

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The Ballad of Backbone Joe

This, believe it or not, was my first experience of cabaret. Well, at least my first experience of cabaret with the name ‘cabaret’ plastered all over the place. I’ve experienced cabaret before, it seems; I just wasn’t quite sure it was cabaret. This cabaret performance, however, was deemed to be cabaret by the people who run the Cabaret Festival in the capital city of the Festival State. Being quite unaware of what technically constitutes cabaret, I think these are the people to trust. And the experiment was worthwhile.

The Suitcase Royale, creators of The Ballad of Backbone Joe, are a tidy little Rag’n’Bone trio from Melbourne who’ve played at a range of festivals and events around Australia, the UK, US, Ireland and Germany. For a taste of their sound, have a listen to this. Their music is right up my street, and given the nature of cabaret, that’s the best feature. I could have forgone the story of Backbone Joe, who I never really came to care about (or possibly even understand), and I would have enjoyed listening to a little more of the music these guys created with such incredible vim! I would have enjoyed just as much some more of their humour, which was impeccably timed.

But seriously, I don’t see myself becoming a big fan of cabaret. Anyone who’s read more than one post on this blog knows that for me the holy grail of theatre lies somewhere between plot and character, so cabaret is always going to leave me a little cold. Nonetheless, the convivial nature of the form redeems it. In musical theatre, I often feel that when character and plot are too thin, a production just seems disingenuous; I don’t care about the story, I don’t care about the characters, and I have no reason to care about the performers unless I know them personally. Cabaret doesn’t suffer the same problem, because the performer connects with the audience regardless of the depth of connection I feel with the plot or character.

I’ll be watching out for more of The Suitcase Royale; mainly for their great music, but also because if this is cabaret, I like cabaret.

 
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Posted by on Friday, 15 June 2012 in Adelaide Festival Centre, Adelaide Theatre, Cabaret, Theatre

 

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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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