Michele Lansdown gives a great performance as Norma Desmond
Lavish, lush and incredibly spectacular Willoughby Theatre Company has brought us a magnificent production of this Lloyd Webber musical.
Enter the world of the movies of the 1930’s to the 1950’s .The show opens in the style of a Hollywood blockbuster , introductory credits screening on the front curtain. Based on the iconic 1950’s film starring Gloria Swanson and William Holden it is a murder mystery in classic film noir style, told in flashback by the victim Joe as narrator. This show requires a HUGE amount of extras/chorus , especially for the Paramount studio scenes and Willoughby Theatre Company does not disappoint.
The plot centres on Norma Desmond , a faded superstar of the silent movie age , now lonely and reclusive, forlornly awaiting a call from the great Cecil B. De Mille to return to the screen for her adoring fans . She unexpectedly meets Joe Gillis, an impoverished writer, and sees in him her last chance to make a come back with a remake of SALOME that she has scripted herself. Joe is dragooned into helping adjust and rewrite the script and become Norma’s latest toy-boy.
The orchestra , hidden in the pit , are excellent under the stirling conducting of Greg Jones. Lloyd-Webber’s music in this show is a cross between opera/classical and rock – if you listen closely you can hear tiny phrases similar to sections from ‘Evita’, ‘Phantom of the Opera’, ’Jesus Christ Superstar’ and ‘Aspects of Love’.
In some ways it is a ‘verisimo opera’ for our times. Sometimes the lush, flowing music is a trifle repetitive and there are a number of reprises to drive the points home. Norma has a leitmotif drawn from her first solo, ‘Surrender’.
The huge sets by Simon Greer, especially Norma’s huge white house, are exquisite. Of particular note is the huge fireplace and mirror in Norma’s house and The Staircase for her entrances/exits. And i loved the elegant huge car she has. The huge hangars of the Paramount studio were also great. What I did find distracting was the visible use of the cast as scene changing crew, but one became used to it.
As our leading man and narrator young blonde, handsome Morgan Cleary as Joe Gillis the writer was excellent .He was in fine voice and gave a magnificent performance .Joe holds the key to all the assorted tangled relationships in the show and helps glue the twisted plot together.
The mysterious, enigmatic Max von Mayerling , part butler, chauffeur , general dogsbody , ex movie director – and Norma’s first husband - was marvellously played by Patricio Ulloa always appropriately elegantly dressed with white or black gloves . He is devoted to Norma and oozes protective menace. His leitmotif is ‘The Greatest Star of All’ sung in a terrific baritone (almost tenor ) .
The leading lady Norma Desmond, is a role to die for, and Michele Lansdown seizes it and makes it her own. In a knockout , ravishing performance she is the reclusive fading screen queen . Norma is a fragile control freak, with huge eyes and glorious voice she dominates the stage from her opening ‘Surrender’ and the following ‘With One Look’ has the audience in the palm of her hand. At times, at home alone with no wig or makeup, she is fragile and pitiful and, at other times , she is imposing and luminous.
Her descent into madness at the end, with one of the most famous quotes in cinema history , is chilling and a stunning performance that totally grabs you. And oh…the fabulous costumes!! Norma is always in Beardsley like elegant black and white assorted stunning costumes designed by Joy Sweeney.The final outfit, dripping pearls and with a silver cape, is one of the many highlights.
Betty Schaeffer , who collaborates with Joe on a script and ends up falling in love with him, is a sweet pretty yet feisty young woman marvellously played by Elizabeth Garrett .She shines in her duet with Joe ‘ Too Much in Love to Care ‘ and before that the ‘Boy Meets Girl’ parts one and two .
While there were perhaps a few small technical glitches- opening night nerves perhaps- which I am sure will be fixed, this is a glorious, stunning production not to be missed.
The Willoughby Theatre Company’s production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s SUNSET BOULEVARDE, directed by Simon Greer and Andrew Castle, opened at The Concourse Chatswood on Friday November 16 and runs until Saturday November 24, 2012.
The much-loved family musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang has been spectacularly transferred to the stage of Sydney’s Capitol Theatre, and received an ecstatic standing ovation from an almost full house at the gala premiere on Saturday night.
Based on the treasured family movie of 1968, which itself was loosely based on Ian Fleming’s 1964 children’s novel, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang tells the story of Caratacus Potts (David Hobson); a widowed, eccentric inventor who lives with his two children, Jeremy and Jemima, and his elderly, equally eccentric father. After seeing the children playing in a junkyard with an old rusted car, Potts buys the vehicle and rebuilds it – making some improvements of his own along the way and dubbing the car ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’.
As the story unfolds the car is revealed to possess a number of unique qualities – not the least of which is the ability to fly.
Soon the Potts meet leading lady Truly Scrumptious (Rachel Beck), who accompanies the family on a picnic and helps them rescue Grandpa Potts and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang from the clutches of the evil Baron and Baroness Bomburst of Vulgaria. Along the way we meet an evil Childcatcher and a pair of silly spies, while enjoying various enchanting and exuberant musical numbers, before the story eventually – as such stories do – ends happily and well.
Technically, this is a truly impressive production, featuring some magnificent stage effects – not only Chitty Chitty Bang Bang herself, but also several of Potts’ many inventions.
The cast is excellent, and as Hobson and Beck especially are such splendid singers, the show has quite an operatic feel in parts – an impression which is added to by the huge chorus of ‘lost’ children in Act Two.
Caratacus Potts is magnificently played by David Hobson (making the switch from opera to musical theatre); he carries the show superbly and steals the scene every chance he gets. Special mention must be made of the glorious way he sings ‘Hushabye Mountain’ and throws himself into the rollicking ‘Me Ol’ Bamboo’.
Rachel Beck is sweetly elegant, feisty and determined as the show’s romantic interest. Her ‘Lovely, Lonely Man’ and ‘Doll on a Music Box’ are sensational.
Peter Carroll has a wonderful time as the gruff, charming Grandpa Potts, especially in the songs ‘Posh’ and ‘The Roses of Success ‘
Comic relief was provided by audience favourites, the ridiculous spies Boris and Goran (George Kapinairis and Todd Goddard) who appear in assorted ‘disguises’ and silly situations.
Much fun was had by the marvellously petulant and childish Baron Bomburst of Vulgaria (Alan Brough) and his scheming, narcissistic, delightfully wicked, child-hating wife, the Baroness (Jennifer Vuleric ). They were resplendent in red costumes, and displayed excellent comic timing in their delicious ‘Chu-Chi Face’.
Hold tightly and protectively onto your children when Tyler Coppin as the devilish Childcatcher is around. He is brilliantly, malevolently evil, quite frightening at times, and has a spectacular solo.
Caratacus Potts’ children Jeremy and Jemima were enchantingly played by Max Walburn and Ashleigh Ross.
Dana Jolly’s choreography sparkles throughout.
While Chitty Chitty Bang Bang herself behaved beautifully (and received several curtain calls at the end of the evening) there were a few minor technical hitches on opening night, but the audience mostly ignored them and surrendered to having a marvellous time.
A terrific musical, and much fun for everyone (though given its long running time, evening performances many not be ideal for very small children).
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Music and lyrics by Richard M Sherman and Robert B Sherman Adapted for the stage by Jeremy Sams and Ray Roderick Directed by Roger Hodgman Musical director/conductor: Peter Casey Sound design: Kelvin Gedye Scenic and costume designer: Anthony Ward Lighting designer: Matt Scott Choreographer: Dana Jolly Cast includes: David Hobson, Rachel Beck, Alan Brough, Jennifer Vuleric, George Kapinairis, Peter Carroll, Todd Goddard, Tyler Coppin, Max Walburn, Ashleigh Ross, Philip Gould, Tony Farrell and Sonia Carter Running time: 2 hours 40 mins (approx) including one interval
Capitol Theatre, Sydney 17 November 2012 – 13 January 2013
A magnificent revival of an Australian classic. Pic Bob Seary
Enormous fun was had by all in this magnificent revival of the Nick Enright/Terence Clark classic THE VENETIAN TWINS.
Now regarded as an Australian classic, this play, originally performed in 1979, is an adaptation of the great eighteenth century Goldoni play. What is interesting to note is that there was a revival of this show in Canberra recently and that the National Theatre’s ‘One Man Two Governors’, another adaptation of the same play, is touring next year, in Sydney as part of the Sydney Theatre Company main subscription season.
This production, as directed by Mackenzie Steele, harks back to the eighteenth century original with the use of wonderful masks, white-face and the use of stock commedia del arte characters ( the daughter, the father, the villain, the lover…) and Arlecchino and Colombina (aka Harlequin and Columbine).
What is also most effective is the set design by Sean Minehan .In some ways it is as if they are an itinerant troupe of strolling players traveling around small Australian country towns, with torn hessian bags featuring as part of the set.
There is also excellent use of several lara ge mirrors and frames on wheels and fabulous ‘old fashioned’ lighting by Matthew Marshall, with dramatic lighting from underneath at times, as if by footlights.
The silly, complicated and confusing plot ( which Shakespeare would have loved) involves twins , marriage plans , greed , lockets , lost siblings and murder… Very briefly it can be summarised as follows: a pair of identical twin brothers, one , Tonino , is swashbuckling , smooth and a sophisticated city dweller, the other , Zanetto , is a country yokel, gauche and naive. Unbeknownst to each other they arrive in the same town, somewhere in the region of Goondiwindi.
Hilarious chaos ensues with confusion and disguise, but eventually the youthful heroes prevail , the pompous spoilsports and delightful villain receive their just deserts , true love ensues and all ends happily ever after .
The script has some intentionally bad puns and very witty fast paced dialogue as well as including some audience participation. The score, finely played by the orchestra hidden behind a commedia dell arte diamond lozenge design like screen, is in fact quite difficult in parts. It ranges over a large variety of styles , from catchy tuneful sing-alongs ( eg ‘Back to Jindywaraback’) to Gilbert and Sullivan, music hall (‘Hiss the villain’) , the heavy German Expressionism of Brecht/Weill ( eg ‘The Ballad of Middle Class Tenacity’ ) and Mozart opera ( eg Beatrice’s solo) There are also stylistic hints of major musicals such as ‘ Cabaret ‘and ‘A Chorus Line'. In the dual role of Tonino/Zanetto, James Jay Moody is magnificent .He is in fine voice, rubbery of expression and has a fabulous whale of a time confusing us as both the brothers , elegant in a brocaded jacket or sadly playing a red guitar .
The villain of the piece, Pancrazio , was brilliantly played by Dean Vince. He was tall, bald and elegantly snake like in a Bakstian red and pink coloured outfit and had terrific fun hypnotizing the audience with his superb stage presence in ‘Hiss the villain’ . Sensational.
As seemingly refined elegant Beatrice in a blue dress with a detachable train and pink bows, Marissa-Clare Berzins was marvellous. She is caught up in a very tricky situation and has great fun stealing the show with her operatic solos.
Bespectacled, very prim and proper, Rosina the judges’ daughter ( or is she ?! ) is terrifically played by Meagan Caretti .
Arlecchino is excellently played by Zac Jardine as a cheeky opinionated servant who does, underneath it all , cares for his master . His delightful duet with his sweetheart/fiance Colombina (sort of dressed as a punk Goth fairy crossed with a French maid) , played enchantingly by Debra Bryan, was enchanting (‘Everybody needs a little mate’ ) .
Florindo a young, elegant and sophisticated man desperately in love with Beatrice, was played by handsome bearded young Hugo Weaving look alike Stephan Anderson, who was in magnificent voice.
Yong blonde, handsome, rather foppish Lelio, who turns out to be the judge’s nephew, is terrifically played by Andy Johnston.
The judge himself is stalwartly played by Peter Flett who performs ‘The Ballad of Middle Class Tenacity’ with great verve and style . This was a great production that was thoroughly enjoyed.
MacKenzie Steele’s production of THE VENETIAN TWINS, with a running time of just over two hours including one interval, opened at the New Theatre, 542 King Street, Newtown on Thursday 15th November and runs until Saturday 15th December, 2012.
Nic Gibney, Matthew Gent and Michael Bungen in 'PIRATES'. Pic Lisa Tomasetti
Ahoy me hearties! One of the best of the many versions I have seen, this is a fresh, sparkling version of the Gilbert and Sullivan classic that I think G and S would have greatly enjoyed.
The twist in Sasha Regan’s production is that the entire cast is male. As is pointed out in the programme, this in some ways turns everything ‘topsy turvy’ and makes one concentrate even more on the plot and characterisation. Yes there can be read into it lots of ‘gay’ overtones but it can also be extremely funny and very moving in parts.
This is a fast paced production with no allowance for encores in the usual show stopping places (especially ‘With cat like tread’ for example ) .What is also crucially important in these G& S operettas is precise diction , not just orphan/often but the Major-General’s patter song for instance, and in this version it was excellent.
The entrance of Major-General Stanley’s wards was delightful. The corsetry and long white skirts were fabulous. Visually the predominant colour for both ladies and pirates in this production was white or variations thereof (perhaps representing their innocence?).
The sparse, minimalist set design mostly consisted of a few crates/boxes /steps and stylized clouds. Unusual, very effective use was made of torches and lighting from beneath for ‘With cat like tread’.
Technically and musically the production was superb with glorious singing from all. Alan Richardson as Mabel especially , in the difficult coloratura sections,(‘ Poor wandering one’ ) was magnificent .And Adam Vaughan as the police sergeant has a fine gravelly bass. What was also of interest is that this version uses no orchestra but instead an amplified piano, sparklingly played by Michael England.
There were magnificent performances by all of the ensemble and splendid acting. The production was warm, witty and hilarious in some parts (especially some of the sight gags with Ruth).
Our hero, young curly haired Frederick, the ‘slave of duty’ was brilliantly played and sung by handsome Matthew Gent - a fine performance . Alan Richardson as Mabel was astonishing and superb. Their duet ‘ All is prepared ‘ was glorious and heartbreaking - you could have heard a pin drop .
Our devilishly delightful pirate king was terrifically played by Nic Gibney, with tattoos and a faint Johnny Depp influence. He was in fine voice and captivating.
Ruth, the piratical maid of all work, was exquisitely played by Joseph Houston . Tall and lanky she was incredibly touching in a sad finale to Act1. Bravo. Both Houston and Gibney have a whale of a time in ‘A Paradox’ among other sections.
Major-General Stanley was magnificently played by Neil Moors. He was resplendent in a red jacket with epaulettes (very British army) and there were some sections where he was rather like a master of the hunt - using a broom as a hobby horse, with some risqué visual jokes with Ruth. ( Interesting- in most productions at the end Ruth is courted by the Sarg, but here it looks like the Major- General wants her for himself) .
In this production the rubbery knock kneed police all have various oversize mustaches as masks .They all wore light blue shirts and white torn shorts, save for the Sergeant who wore a more refined version and had stripes on his shirt. Vaughan as the Sergeant was the only one who had a real mustache.
An absolutely brilliant production, running time just over two hours, had the audience at times in fits of hysterical laughter. The tumultuous standing ovation at the end was richly deserved .
Sasha Regan’s production of THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE opened at the Sydney Theatre on Saturday 10th November and plays until Saturday 24th November, 2012.
Two visually exciting, compelling and challenging works by Dean Walsh were recently presented under the umbrella title of Prime: Orderly as part of Dance Bites, presented by FORM at Parramatta.
Both were inspired by Walsh’s love of scuba diving and concern for the environment, and distil two years of research by the Australia Council Dance Fellow into a choreographic study of marine environments. This research has also led Walsh to develop a new choreographic scoring system.
First came the sensational An Enemy, featuring the use of the Sensory Dive Memory Suit (SMDS), its ‘body’ suspended on a series of wires, as if in a spider’s web. The suit examined possibilities on the various stages of descent, neutral buoyancy, trimming and pivoting. Most of the work involved a mysterious underwater creature in a totally masking suit of purple or blue velvet-like material, and thrashing, twisting floor work.
Eventually the SMDS is cut free and then dragged and dumped like sea rubbish and netting. The masked sea creature gives a short podium speech about sharks. Then suddenly, to a strange pulsating soundtrack, he is caught and lifted – like a fish – by two mysterious humans in yellow rain ponchos. Flopping and flapping, the creature is then stripped and re-dressed by the two humans, and is left in black trousers with his head heavily wrapped and masked in black. Next comes a powerful, shaky, angular solo with balloons partly filled with ‘blood’ where the choreographic emphasis is on the shoulders and arm isolation movements and the creature dies, entangled in fishing nets.
There was stunned, appreciative silence but no chance for applause as Judith McDonald of Scuba Warehouse Parramatta was hurriedly introduced and she gave a short inspiring speech.
Under Pressure after interval reflected the timeline of a dive. In this work the three performers are all miked up, resulting in a (sometimes over-amplified) soundscape of breathing. The soundscape for this work also features beeps, hums, whistles, snaps, taps etc, again as if experienced on a dive.
Under Pressure begins almost without the audience realizing, as the three cast members, all in casual blue outfits, ‘flipped overboard’ one at a time and began to ‘dive’. Walsh’s choreography especially at the beginning, uses lots of rolling floor work. There are off balance poses and some fabulous sculptural pas de deux and pas de trois. Diving hand signals are also incorporated.
Sometimes the dancers seem like floating, rippling jellyfish. There is considerable use of straight outstretched arms and Walsh’s choreography demands at times an almost impossibly flexible back.
The set is dominated by three crumpled sculptural heaps of silver foil which turn out to also include lots of silver inflatable balloons. Walsh makes a comment on human destruction of the environment and disposability as the balloons are inflated, tossed, collected up and eventually thrown into the huge fishing net. Other large balloons are also inflated and used to symbolise both the lungs of the diver and diving equipment .Speech is also included as the cast towards the end talk about various exciting dives and the marine environment.
For both works the lighting was eerie and ominous, glowing with the occasional flash of light, as if we were sinking underwater.
An enthralling program combining dance and science, which raised major concerns about the preservation of the marine environment.
4 stars out of 5 Prime: Orderly Choreographer: Dean Walsh Performers: Dean Walsh, Natalie Aytobn, Kathryn Puie Lighting: Mikey Rice Music: ‘Indigo’ by Henke Roberty; ‘Skodde’ by Dahl G/Sagevik R; ‘Module 4’, ‘Module 10’ by Alva Noto; ‘Gulf Night’ by Nicolai Carsten Set design, sound recorder and mixer: Dean Walsh
1. An Enemy – quartet performance. Dean Walsh with two faceless beings and an environmental entity known as SDMS 2. Under Pressure – trio: Dean Walsh, Natalie Ayton and Kathyrn Puie
Running time: one hour 40 minutes (approx) including interval Parramatta Riverside Theatre 25 - 27 October
From the opening phrases of music and movement in the first work,’ Un Ballon‘, choreographed by Jiri Kylian, one notices the sensational quality of the dancing from the company , in particular a soft ‘ ballon ‘ , incredible jumps and a marvelous ‘line’.
Kylian’s Un Ballon (1991) was originally choreographed for NDT11. It is dominated by a huge tilted square rig of candles as if in an eighteenth century theatre. There is no plot as such – Kylian considers it ‘an exercise in musicality and sensitivity between male and female partners’ - an excuse, if one was necessary, for glorious dancing. The cast of three main couples and four other pairs are all in black costumes .
The choreography is at times lush, lyrical and romantic with fluid angular arms. Some of it is quite sculptural. At one point much use is made visually of the bell like formation of the upended women’s skirts. The opening pas de deux was a knockout . ‘Strings’ by outgoing artistic director Ivan Cavallari featured the magnificent playing of guest violinist Madeline Antoine. The ‘strings’ of the title are the violin strings perhaps, also the heart strings that bind us together. Another ‘string ‘was the line-up of the dancers at the beginning, introducing themselves.
Strings are also a visual theme as strings are stretched across the stage by the dancers, jumped over, held , snapped, tugged and released .There are some repeated phrases of movement and at times the choreography was reminiscent of Bejart’s style
There are some wonderful solos and pas de deux complimented by some great sculptural ensemble work. It had a spectacular entrance by Antoine in a ‘balloon’ dress and ended on a romantic tone, in a garden at night, with the dancers holding balloons. ‘Lickety Split’ choreographed by Alejandro Cerrudo had a tender, joyous mood. It was mostly a series of small vignettes of flowing short dazzling solos, in particular one by David Mack , pas de deux (or more) about love and developing relationships.
Touch and gesture were important .There was lots of sliding and expressive use of the back and the partnering was excellent. The women wore orangey/apricot coloured dresses and the men wore dark suits. Set to the music of Devendra Banhart, the dancing was abstract yet had a rather gentle , tender, joyous and loving mood .
And then for something completely different ….
After interval came Gary Stewarts’s ‘The Centre and its Opposite’. The audience was sharply divided into fans or those who didn’t like it, thrown totally out of its comfort zone with this jarring, abstract work which in some ways was similar to Forsythe or Wheeldon pieces .
Stewart took pure abstract dance, using ballet as its core, but has deconstructed and reworked it. There is no emotion, no interaction with the audience.
Stewart’s choreography demands a clean, sizzling line, emphatic turn out and a very flexible back .There were lots of pirouettes (mostly supported) , balances into arabesque as well as a use of a deep plie. There’s also an unusual use of weight, balance and being dragged across the stage.
Huey Benjamin’s jarring, crashing, pulsating score fights Stewarts’ choreography for dominance. The harsh, flickering and almost blinding cage or strip like banks of neon lights emphasize the dancers in their grey costumes.
Here were four short works that showcase the superlative dancing of this amazing company. We so rarely get to see them, all the way from Perth, and this was a real treat.
This is the first time in their sixty year history that this Company has performed in the Sydney CBD main-stage area– something in itself to celebrate!
Catch the amazing dancing of the West Australian Ballet in NEON LIGHTS, running time just under two hours including one interval, playing at the Sydney Theatre, Hickson Road, Walsh Bay between the 17th and the 20th October, 2012.
The dominant theme this year was a fantasy tropical island , so for the fun pre-show entertainment ( great dancing and singing ) the cast , moving around and interacting with the audience ,were in hula skirts , wore sea shell bras, inflatable floaties at their elbows, or were dressed as sailors.
The cast were terrific and the audience was treated to four exciting short pieces .In the outside ‘foyer, whilst we were waiting, there was an undercover tent like structure of ‘sails’ where the audience was encouraged to sit and look up at the bubbling water video effect.
When the show proper began we were welcomed and then divided into two groups, red or green according to ticket colour. If you were a ‘green’ like me, you had to wait outside a little longer. Eventually we were lead inside and the marvellous ‘Cabana Club Dancers’ performed a short witty take off of ‘Island’ dancing , with fun masks , Dame Edna glasses etc .
We were then beckoned closer and informed we were going on a ‘treasure hunt’ and led single file into the dark environs of the theatre proper . We paused and encouraging notes were passed around (‘ almost there’…).
‘Scattered’ was mostly gentle but at times challenging. The set mainly featured a plain white projection screen and what seemed to be a large pile of crumpled paper. There is no dialogue in this work but much use is made of post it notes and projections. We are all seated by a lovely young lady in white and there are various notes like ‘you are here’ etc .
We are welcomed and then the crumpled pile of paper is removed to reveal a flautist. There was interaction between the two cast members and audience and then suddenly a huge hand (on the projection screen) takes over and the two cast members are tossed and rolled by the hand, which attempts to dominate both.
Eventually we are led to another section of PACT just behind us and are also reunited with the ‘red’ members of the audience for the next work – ‘Capital i’ , which was at times disturbing and threatening.
As the program notes say, the performers were interested in creating ‘an other worldly space’ , a parallel dimension in which the inner workings of the digital realm are made visible, tangible yet still ethereal .The struggle between different forces in computing terms ( ie hacking , viruses piracy and their counterpoints is explored through notions of mysticism , possession and binary opposites .
The lighting made effective use of UV lighting for the costumes and makeup – the dancers wore black outfits with green or orange strips that glowed, and heavy swirling red paint on their faces in death like masks. Their performance started as an emphatic solo then developed into a chilling sculptural trio – messengers of death?
They stalked the stage threatening the audience then disappeared with a snap .Blackout. The end of the work is where a huge face is projected on screen , Kabuki like in an ominous threatening mask of makeup , repeatedly reciting a mantra of zero and one - are computers taking over the universe ?
I didn’t quite ‘get ‘ the short interlude piece of the ‘three fates’ , at first sexy and tempting then eating watermelon and the watermelon fight but it was fun and the audience loved it .
‘Kumkum’ the final piece, was excellent. Raghav Handa , performer and choreographer, has created a proud, passionate solo that fuses contemporary dance with Indian and Bangarra like styles in a most exciting mix. There were also hints of Nijinksi’s ‘Afternoon of A Faun ‘ at times .
The dominant colour towards the end was blood red – the blood of the land? The blood of humanity? While Handa was dancing there was a terrific performance by cellist Alli Sebastian Wolf , who had her back to the audience , wearing a very long train draped from the headpiece she wore . The lighting/video work by Jacqui Mills was most effective and atmospheric.
A most exciting, at times startling and challenging programme. Four ‘works in progress’ that I would like to see more of. FRESHLY SQUEEZED, with a performance running time of 90 minutes straight through, played at the PACT Theatre, Erskineville the 19th and 20th October, 2012.
Tarantula is a terrific new Australian play about the extraordinary life of femme fatale Lola Montez, the Irish-born dancer and actress who in 1846 became the mistress of King Ludwig I of Bavaria, and later scandalised the Australian gold fields with her erotic ‘Spider Dance’; a voluptuous dance in which she pretended to be looking for a spider in her skirts.
Narratively, the story unfolds as a play within a play within a relationship. Gina (Zoe Carides) is an actress, and is interested in Lola Montez both professionally and personally. She has written a play about Montez, which we see staged in the rehearsal studio.
Various famous incidents in Lola’s life are portrayed, such as her horsewhipping of The Ballarat Times’ editor Henry Seekamp and her life on the Victorian goldfields. Some are bizarre but all, apparently, are true.
Tarantula opens with Terry (Michael Whalley) as Lola’s lover, Noel Follard, who disappeared mysteriously from the ship the J.A. Falkenburg en route to California in 1856.Did Lola push him overboard? Did he fall off, drunk? Did he jump? Gina wants to know why and how he disappeared, if it is at all possible to know. Lola is a major suspect, but it is the atmosphere in the rehearsal room that becomes important as we see Gina’s relationship with Terry drastically change.
One of the main themes of Alana Valentine’s play is Lola’s significance as a feminist role model. Also important is the issue of older women’s sexuality, self acceptance and independence. ‘Desire is a tarantula and it bites,’ as Gina/Lola says. Her ‘Spider Dance’ is often referred to, and performed (with choreography by Julia Cotton); used as a symbol of convention and of Lola’s continual defiance, as well as a symbol of female desire. Ageism, sexism and clichéd gender stereotypes are all discussed in depth from Gina and Terry’s opposite viewpoints.
Zoe Carides as Lola is magnificent. She gives a stirring, bewitching performance in her red and gold dress. The handsome, youthful-looking Michael Whalley in the male roles is tremendous, a real lady killer as Terry. Both obviously have a whale of a time.
Sarah-Jane McAllan’s abstract set design of light cotton drapes links in with Montez’s tour of the Victorian goldfields and helps create the intimate rehearsal room atmosphere. Martin Cook’s lighting is extremely effective, and Richard Mills’ music is terrific.
An excellent production of a marvellous new Australian play, showcasing some great performances.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5 Tarantula By Alana Valentine Director/Producer: Nastassja Djalog Designer: Sarah-Jane Mcallan Lighting Designer: Marcus Cook Costumes: Beth Allen Choreography: Julia Cotton With: Zoe Carides and Michael Whalley Running time: 90 mins (approx) no interval King St. Theatre, Newtown 9 October – 3 November