Friday, 16 October 2015

My Zinc Bed by David Hare at the Ensmble

MY ZINC BED BY DAVID HARE ENSEMBLE THEATRE OCTOBER 2015 Under Mark Kilmurry’s excellent, assured direction the Ensemble have just opened the latest play in the season – David Hare’s My Zinc Bed. The direction is sensitive, with a light touch and the acting is superb with bravura performances from all three of the cast . Hare’s erudite beautifully scripted play (with some strong language)is at times cuttingly witty and at others searingly passionate and revealing. Structurally the play is basically a series of conversations The issues of the play include temptation, addiction, struggling with alcoholicism , self analysis and understanding , ,faith ( or the lack of it ) and love and marriage . Also, memory – observe how the play is in effect cyclical and at the end the first meeting is repeated , but slightly differently. (From another character’s point of view?) In this play, Paul Peplow , who acts as our narrator, is a poet and struggling ex-alcoholic currently working as a journalist . He is now on the straight and narrow, attending AA meetings, trying to be good. However one short unforgettable London summer threatens to destroy him. He is sent to meet and interview millionaire businessman Victor Quinn and is enticed into a new world that can be a very dangerous game. While he banters and verbally boxes with Victor, and flirts with his wife Elsa, the barriers of Paul’s self control and carefully established sobriety begin to fracture … can you let yourself go without losing control ? Feller’s clear, simple, rather minimalist set is basically a curved white cyclorama with a panel in front of part of it, a slightly raised platform and a single plastic chair. Higgin’s atmospheric lighting is tremendous, becoming everything from a red posh restaurant door and/or sunset to a hazy green view of a park and trees .The lighting also reflects at times the mood of the character to great effect. Our stubbled somewhat scruffy poet Paul, who acts as our narrator and has several sparkling asides and monologues, is delightfully, charmingly played by Sam O’Sullivan .He has a major problem – not just his alcoholicism but ‘ I can love you and drink. Or I can not love you and not drink. That is the choice’ as he blurts passionately to Elsa. The scenes between Paul and Elsa crackle with intensity. Danielle Carter as Elsa is stunning. She is head of a large charity organization and beautifully blonde and elegant. She seems strong , confident and captivating , a mix of alluring femme fatale and complexity – yet in reality is vulnerable , she hides a couple of secrets and anxiously bemoans the fact that she can’t give Victor children . As IT magnate millionaire businessman, ex communist Victor Quinn, Sean Taylor is charismatic and seductive .He is suave, polished and urbane with a hypnotic ,mellifluous voice. In the long opening scene he is almost Satanic in his almost hypnotic attempt to encourage Paul to drink. Does he know about Paul and Elsa? He manipulates both of them. Victor and Elsa’s marriage appears to be based at least partly on pity and a hungry need. A splendid production with glorious performances .Thoroughly recommended. Running time 90m mins no interval My Zinc Bed runs in rep at the Ensemble Theatre 10 Oct -22 Nov 2015 Director Mark Kilmurry Elsa Quinn – Danielle Carter Paul Peplow – Sam O’Sullivan Victor Quinn – Sean Taylor Designer Tobhiyah Stone Feller Lighting Nicholas Higgins Wardrobe Coordinator Alana Canceri

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

NT Live The Beaux Stratagem

This was glorious , much fun yet thought provoking too. Here's my Sydney Arts Guide reveiw Written in 1707 THE BEAUX STRATEGEM is George Farquhar’s last play. A wonderful Restoration Comedy, as directed terrifically by Simon Godwin, it is bright, busy, action packed and full of derring-do. It bubbles, sparkles and has the audience in fits of laughter at times with its delicious witty dialogue, plot, counter–plot, and yet is also full of hidden dark layers. Especially in regards to its depiction of the way women were treated, it has plenty of relevance for todays’ audiences. In Farquhar’s play the ‘Beaux’ of the title are two dashing young men, ,Mr Aimwell and Mr Archer, charming and rather dissolute, who have fled to provincial Lichfield from London in order to escape their debts. Their ‘stratagem’ is to marry for money. They are the best of friends, practically brothers. Posing as servant and master they lodge at the local inn run by Boniface and his independent- minded daughter Cherry. During the play they discover assorted obstacles to their mission– plot, counter plot, highwaymen, a treacherous Irish priest (or is he?), a corrupt landlord, a scheming maid , a handsome passionate French Count , an angry butler and a wise woman healer…Nothing is as it seems . And when Cupid’s dart hits they are most at risk because all might need to be revealed … This production features a wonderful multilevel set which with assorted flourishes and song for scene changes becomes the various locale, switching seamlessly between a high galleried, rich country house and an inn. The lighting was dramatic and atmospheric or complementary where necessary. The music, singing and dancing were vibrantly incorporated and performed with great exuberance and panache. Wonderful! The period costume designs – especially for Mrs Sullen- were are ravishing . There’s wonderful comic timing for the gang of highwayman that plan the nighttime robbery and the fencing/fight scene in Act 2 with its split second precision and co-ordination was a huge audience pleaser. Mention must also be made of the ‘trifle ‘dance. Our two Beaux, Mr Aimwell and Mr Archer , were swoon worthily played by Samuel Barnett and Geoffrey Streatfield. They played them joyously and exuberantly, and the flirtation/love scenes were enchanting. As our leading lady Mrs Sullen, Susannah Fielding was outstanding. A blonde vision in pink red and white she was exquisite. She acts as Farquhar’s mouthpiece on the subject of women, marriage and divorce and how they can be patronized and referred to as a ‘child”. Mrs Sullen was a bright, intelligent and energetic woman trapped in a very unhappy, incompatible marriage and in her monologues she expresses the difficulties inherent in her situation. In one scene, she turns to the audience and asks ( I paraphrase somewhat ) ‘In England, a country whose women are its glory, must women be abused?!’ and searches for freedom. Mr Sullen as played by Richard Henders, is shown as a bull-headed, hard, drunken, unkempt and unsympathetic husband. We first see him drunk, filthy and smelly but when clean and sober he can be quite distinguished and the final scene is actually quite moving. Dark, luscious Dorinda was excellently played by Pippa Bennett- Warner as a strong and feisty woman. Poor Scrub the butler with his wounded heart was terrifically played by Pearce Quigley. Timothy Watson was tremendous as the dashingly handsome French Count with a delectable French accent. Verdict. This NT Live presentation was mesmerising, rip-roaring, delicious fun. Running Time. Three Hours including one interval and a short, behind the scenes documentary. NT Live’s production of THE BEAUX STRATAGEM is currently screening in cinemas.

The Real Thing at the New Theatre

A marvellous production .Here's my Sydney Arts Guide review It’s no trick loving someone at their best. Love is loving them at their worst” With her current revival Director Alice Livingstone has brought us a finely acted, warm, strong and vibrant production of Stoppard’s witty, wordy, challenging play. Stoppard’s landmark play, written over thirty years ago now, asks big questions re life, love art and creativity. It blurs illusion and reality, at times– which is ‘real life’ and which is a scene in Henry’s latest play? Sometimes it can be hard to tell but it all becomes clear eventually. It is obviously extremely British and of it’s era (it’s set in the 1960’s) but still extremely relevant to today. At times the theatre patrons were in fits of laughter, at other times they were mesmerised and even close to tears. The plot of Stoppard’s semi-autobiographical play is as follows; Henry, a successful playwright, has fallen deeply in love with Annie, an actress, and they leave their original partners to start a life together. However Henry is tortured by uncertainty -is what he feels ‘the real thing’ or is it merely an illusion? Annie, on the other hand, espousing the political cause of a soldier arrested for an anti-war protest and pursued by a young, handsome co-star, begins to question the merits of fidelity. Having written a scintillating hit play about adultery, Henry gradually discovers the torment that betrayal can cause. Darkly handsome Christopher Tomkinson as playwright Henry gives a finely nuanced performance. He blends intensity, intelligence, vulnerability and eccentricity in a wonderful, multi-layered performance and he impressively delivers some long, complicated speeches Emily Weare, of the fabulous cheekbones, imposingly played Charlotte, Henry’s tall, glacially elegant wife. Charlotte comes across as ultra posh, cold and aloof but is she really? or is her persona more of a defence mechanism?! Ainslie McGlynn was delightful as feisty actress Annie, married to another gentleman, Max. Charming, urbane, sophisticated Max was well played by Peter Eyers. Eventually Henry and Annie leave their original partners to be together and we watch how things work out for them. In the supporting roles, Benjamin Winckle is terrific as Billy, Annie’s handsome co-star as well as playing the soldier Brodie. Charlotte Hazzard also impressed as Debbie, Charlotte and Henry’s daughter, a young woman questioning/challenging her parent’s morals. Sharina Matthews’ set is elegant with clear, clean clear lines and assorted, slight swift changes to indicated different locales. The music ranges from Bach and haunting opera, the Skater’s Waltz, to various 1960’s groups and popular songs including Neil Sedaka’s Breaking up is Hard to Do, and the Shirelles Will you still love me Tomorrow?. Stoppard’s haunting, marvellous play explores relationships, the creative process and the world of Art. The hallmark of Stoppard’s writing is on show; his brilliant, witty dialogue… Tom Stoppard’s THE REAL THING is playing at the New Theatre until the 7th November. Running time- 2 hours and 30 minutes including one interval. Creative Team and Crew:- Director Alice Livingstone Set Designer Sharina Matthews Lighting Designer Richard Whitehouse Costume Designer Famke Visser Sound Design Alistair Wallace Assistant Director/Dramaturg Roxzan Bowes Costume Assistant Melissa Lombardo Set Construction Jullian Westiake, Goran Erikson, Joel Robinson, Jezuina Ornelas Production/Co-Stage Manager Jo Jewitt Co-Stage Manager Joan Cameron-Smith Assistant Stage Managers Tegan Diamond, Jared McCulla Sound/Lights Operators Nick Hatzakos, Sebastian Vervoort Voice/Dialect Coaching Helen Tonkin, Nick Curnow

Russian National Ballet Sleeping Beauty

Great dancing - the Prince was amazing - see what I thought for Artshub - tp:// Keep calm and carry on, I’m the Lilac Fairy …. The Russian National Ballet have brought us a very traditional, and very pretty, version of Sleeping Beauty. Using the accepted standard Petipa choreography, it is one to keep the grandmas and Aunt Ednas happy (and little girls loved it too). The sets are rather basic, with fake cut out statues and staircases. There is however a wonderful Versailles fountain like backdrop. I did like the oversized embroidered roses for the vision scene in Act 2, however, I am afraid the Act 3 ballroom set looks rather like a niche in an art gallery. The lighting was most dramatic and effective – Caraboose appears with striking red lighting and the vision scene is lit as if a dream from a black and white film. It uses recorded music. There was fine ensemble work throughout, consistently well done, both courtiers and fairies. The patterns and formations – especially in the big waltzes – worked wonderfully and were performed crisply and precisely. In Act 1 the women of the corps wore bonnets with their pink and white dresses, in Act 3 beautiful delicately beaded caps. The men wore straw boaters for the Garland Waltz in Act 1 ,which gave it a summery music hall look. ​However, the elbow frills that most of the women wore (fairies and so on) distracts and cuts the line of the arms. Our Princess Aurora was excellent, beautifully danced although I did wonder about the Barbie like extra pink sparkly tutu for Act 1. Her entrance and first solo was terrific. In Act 1 she is all young, dewy, girly and blushing, shy and nervously giggly. The Rose Adagio was handled very well, but she barely looked at the Princes and instead stared into space. In Act 3, in white and gold for the wedding, she was radiant and confident. Looking a bit like a young Rupert Everett, our hero, Prince Desire, gave a standout performance. He had no real chance to reveal emotional depths, but oh! What splendid, superb dancing! Pure clean classical technique, incredible jumps and turns, marvelous ballon, and a great partner too. His solo in the Grand Pas De Deux in Act 3 was tremendous and he dazzled in Act 2. I would, however, have dispensed with the very distracting demi–cloak in the hunting scene in Act 2 as it ruins the line of his dancing. The Lilac Fairy was beautifully, most impressively danced with delightful arms and an exquisite line .She was calm, cool and elegantly collected in the various crisis that developed. Her solos were enchanting. In this version she has an entourage of six lavender coloured attendant fairies. Karabos, in dramatic black and silver, a red cloak and crazy orange wig is played as a demented Sarah Bernhardt, as Queen Elizabeth 1 or perhaps Kostechei from The Firebird. In kabuki white face striking makeup Karabose is hammed up and played like a third rate panto villain, whirling, twirling and skipping on the stage, exultant when Aurora pricks her finger on the hidden spindle and the poisonous soporific spell begins to work. Interesting to note that in this version there is no entourage of scary minions, no carriage, no bangs, fireworks or flashes when she disappears. The four princes in Act 1 for the Rose Adagio were very good. In this version there are just three ‘fairytale’ pas de deux in Act 3 – a cute Puss in Boots and the White Cat, Red Riding Hood and the Wolf and and an exciting Bluebird pas de deux. While very well danced this version is perhaps slightly disappointing. I will be most interested to see the Australian Ballet’s new version later this year. Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5 Sleeping Beauty The Russian National Ballet The Concourse, Chatswood. 7-9 October currently touring various venues and dates

Willoughby Symphony - Myths and Legends

A stunning concert here's what I thought for Sydney Arts Guide The umbrella title for this latest sensational programme by the Willoughby Symphony Orchestra (WSO) was MYTHS AND LEGENDS. Under the energetic emphatic and dynamic baton of maestro Stephen Mould we heard four pieces, one of which was by Solomon John Frank, the winner of the Willoughby Symphony Orchestra /Fine Music 102.5 Young Composer Award. The programme opened with a dazzling performance of Elena Kats-Chernin’s: Mythic that made you blink, sit up straight and pay intense attention. The work referred in particular to Kats-Chernin’s vision of ‘entering a large, mythic cave’. Her piece featured ominous, flowing strings and sharp, spiky woodwind. There were hints of John William’s music for the Star Wars films and Stravinsky’s The Firebird. At one point the orchestra was required to go explosively full out. There were cascading, repeated rhythms and the cellos use pizzicato at one point. Stunning. The second work, Schumann’s Cello Concerto in A minor, op. 129, featured guest soloist Ruben Palma. This piece was an excellent example of Romanticism with perhaps just a hint of Tchaikovsky. The Concerto opened briskly and was at darting and dance-like. For most of the work the orchestra staunchly supported the soloist although there were occasional interruptions by the horns and assorted ‘excursions’. Palma’s performance was sensational, full of lyrical, exquisite playing. Listening intently , absorbed in the music, he caressed his cello. His playing was luminous, including some blisteringly fast allegro, making the cello ‘sing’ with a glorious golden warm tone. His shaping, colouring and mastery of the various nuances of the piece was inspiring. After interval the winner of the Willoughby Symphony Orchestra /Fine Music 102.5 Young Composer Award was announced and presented to Solomon John Frank and his piece Spectre was then performed. Inspired by the James Bond 007 films the piece opened with the ‘spy’ or ‘Hitchcock’ chord. It was full of ominous spiky strings and rippling woodwind yet at times twinkled, pulsated and throbbed.Tempestuous, emphatic strings led the lumbering woodwind towards the breathless conclusion.This was a dynamic performance of an exciting piece. The main part of the second half consisted of a wonderful rendition of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8 in F major, op. 93 in four movements. The first movement, in elegant sonata form, was light, rollicking and almost dance-like and opened with a very warm tone. For most of the movement the strings had a murmured dialogue with, and supported the rest of the orchestra. The second movement, performed at a brisk pace, toyed with a metronome motif, and had an insistent undertone from the woodwind. The main melody was taken and stated and then passed around the various orchestral sections. There was a strong, brisk opening for the third movement with horns interrupting at one point.The rippling, flowing melody was stated by the whole orchestra and then acknowledged by the harp and woodwind. The final fourth movement had the orchestra going tumultuously full out. There were flourishes and assorted scurries, a wonderful oboe solo, then an unexpected sudden change/turn to a sadder, slower rhythm with the orchestra then hurtling towards a tempestuous conclusion. This was a thrilling, exciting concert. Running time- just under two hours including one interval. The Willoughby Symphony Orchestra performed their concert MYTHS AND LEGENDS at the Concourse, Chatswood on the weekend of the 26th and 27th September Share this:1Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)1Share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)

Of Thee I Sing

Here's my Sydney Arts Guide review :, justice and the American way– this Gershwin musical is, as they say, is as American as apple pie, Superman , the Brady Bunch–and in this case, not forgetting corn muffins! The lyrics are at times very witty and Gershwin’s music is exuberant, but it is way over the top and superficial. I think most of the problem lay with the ‘book’, which is extremely dated, of its time, misogynist and flimsy . A wickedly delightful satire the performances by the combined team of Squabbalogic and the Sydney Philharmonia Choir of this semi – staged extravaganza are stellar however the show was way too long and became tedious. It is 1931. In a frantic US presidential campaign it is announced that the candidate , J.P. Wintergreen promises to marry the winner of a beauty contest, whoever is crowned Miss White House, but he falls in love instead with Mary, who is working on the Miss White House quest, because among other things she bakes delicious corn muffins. Wintergreen is elected President but the winner of the Miss White House contest, Diana, takes both legal and political action, threatening an international incident when it is alleged she is an illegitimate descendant of Napoleon- cue delegations from the French Ambassador. Wintergreen survives impeachment for breach of promise , Mary announces she is pregnant and then has twins and Diana marries the bumbling vice-president. Some how, in 1932, this play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. There is just a long table, decorated with the American flag, and some tables and chairs and assorted hand props are used. Gershwin’s score includes allusions to musicals of the era (eg ‘Showboat’ , ‘Oklahoma’) and there are hints of Gilbert and Sullivan patter songs too. Gershwin’s wonderful score is toe tappingly good. Exuberant conductor Brett Weymark finely brought control of the singers/actors, an excellent chamber-sized orchestra and several galleries of the choir. The wonderful choir of more than 200 folk was thrilling, acting as a chorus, commenting on events, Senate members, enthusiastic crowds and, at one point engaged in a tightly choreographed exuberant dance/wave sequence. Tall, dark and handsome David Berry looked perfect Presidential material and had a charismatic presence. Courtney Glass plays his eventual wife Mary and is portrayed as intelligent, hard working , elegantly dressed and of-course she is expected to give up her job once she marries, becoming The Perfect Wife. In her other roles as a clomping around maid and a scrubber woman, Glass is almost unrecognizable. Jaimie Leigh Johnson portrays her character, that of Miss White House winner, Diana, as a ruthless blonde bimbo. We mostly see her as a singing pink glittering Barbie like doll, or in Act 2 , in cahoots with the French Ambassador, as an over the top Marie Antoinette in a white dress with a huge headdress and hat. Johnson also does nice work in her other role, as dance leader, Miss Benson. James Jay Moody who also directed the show has great fun stealing the show as Throttlebottom , the insignificant , almost invisible and appalling dressed Vice President. .His witty dialogue is delivered with impeccable comic timing. Will he get to become President ? Nathan Farrow had great fun switching between his several roles, in particular that of Texan oil millionaire with a Stetson Gilhooley and the French Ambassador with a red beret and a small mustache mask. Blake Erickson was magnificent in his assorted roles, effortlessly switching between them and leading the dancing at times .Rob Johnson in his various roles (eg Chief Justice ) was also terrific. It is hard not to call to mind the Republican Party’s current embarrassments at this time when viewing this show. This was a perhaps once in lifetime chance to catch a major but neglected musical .And here’s hoping that the wonderful Squabbalogic and the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs will collaborate on other shows in the future . Running time 2 hours 45 minutes including one interval. There were only two performance of OF THEE I SING, on the 26th and 27th September, at the Concert Hall , Sydney Opera House.

The Gondoliers

Much fun , a terrific production. Here's my Sydney Arts Guide review Don Alhambra del Bolero the Grand Inquisitor commands that you attend and greatly enjoy this effervescent production of THE GONDOLIERS by the Gilbert and Sullivan Opera, Sydney. The silly plot of arguably one of the most loved G& S operettas can be briefly summarised as follows:- The opera is set in 18th century Venice, and two dashing young gondoliers, brothers Marco & Giuseppe, who have been raised on thoroughly egalitarian principles, suddenly find themselves joint monarchs of an island kingdom called Barataria with very chaotic results! Both newlyweds, they must leave their brides, Gianetta and Tessa behind in Venice until it is determined which of them is the true king who was secretly married in infancy to Casilda, the daughter of the penniless, eccentric Duke of Plazo, Toro. Will the Grand Inquisitor discover who the real king is? What happens when the two husbands manage to acquire three wives?! This production, directed by Gordon Costello with a deft touch, is sumptuously costumed. In Act 1 we have the look of a Romantic ballet ( ‘Napoli’, ‘Giselle’ ) whilst in Act 2 there is more of a Mozart opera look. Act 1 has a rather minimalist set with some doors and a few steps and a striking photo of Venice as a backdrop. Act 2 is a light, clear ‘palace’ set with a colourful, cartoon like throne. The ensemble work was splendid and Elizabeth Lowrencev’s snazzy choreography was terrific, incorporating musical, ballet and folk dance elements. The large production number of the Cachucha was enormous fun. Much attention was paid to Gilbert’s witty lyrics, and Sullivan’s lush, lilting, catchy music will make you feel like dancing in the aisles. Energetic and enthusiastic music conductor Rod Mounjed led well from the front. As the two Gondoliers Marco and Giuseppe, Spencer Darby and Tristan Entwhistle were fabulous, in fine voice and a great, witty comic team. Their solos “Rising Early In the Morning and “ Take A Pair of Sparkling Eyes’ were tremendous. The duets /quartets/quintets were terrifically performed and the showy solos were wonderful as well. Their wives, Gianetta and Tessa, were delightfully sung by Marisa Panzarin and Anne-Louise Finlayson who have much fun with songs such as ‘When A Merry Maiden Marries”. Dean Sinclair as the Duke of Plaza Toro had great fun stealing all the scenes he was in. He strutted, puffed, danced very elegantly – especially in Act 2– and was wickedly delightful. In Act 2 he channeled his inner Sun King in an extraordinary gold and red outfit. His solos were terrific. Stephanie Jennifer Poropat was a wonderful Casilda. She sang divinely and looked beautiful in her red, pink and white outfit in Act 1 and in a lovely green and white dress in Act 2. She was in excellent voice and her arias were marvellous. Catherine Bulfin had great fun as the overbearing Duchess of Plaza-Toro with some very striking heavily beaded and feathered, glittering costumes and with a huge ostrich feather fan in Act 2 . As the rather sinister, pompous, sneering Grand Inquisitor, severely dressed in black, Anthony Mason was excellent, dominating the stage in his solos. Luiz was delightfully played by Michael Bond. Tall, handsome and imposing, he looked tremendous in his drummer’s uniform in Act 1 and in his brief appearance in Act 2 he looked just like a storybook prince. His duets with Casilda were terrific. This was a delightful, enchanting performance of one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s most popular operettas. Running time: 2 hours and 50 minutes including one interval. The production is currently playing at the Smith Auditorium Lyric Theatre, Shore School, William Street, North Sydney. The remaining performances are this Friday night 2nd October at 8pm, and this Saturday night 3rd October at 8pm as well as a matinee at 2pm. Bookings:

Circa Carnival of the Animals

Sheer delight this is enchanting and wonderful .Here's my review for Sydney Arts Guide Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! While marketed as part of the Kids at The House season as it is school holidays, this is an enthralling work for all ages. Opening with a tense Comedie Francaise three bangs of the cane from the Ring Mistress , Circa from Brisbane have developed a dazzling show based on Camille Saint- Saens work. Devised by director Yaron Lifschitz and a highly talented team including lighting designer Jason Organ and the black and white costuming by Libby McDonnell it combines death defying circus stunts, clowning , dance music, circus humour and a great use of multi-media. The amazing cast appear boneless and are full of exuberant energy. Some of the acrobatics are jaw dropping. All the animals in the original are included, and more! The adjusted score accompanies and melds with every exciting moment on stage ranging from quirky, unexpected live elements to the floating and rolling sounds that take the audience underwater. The cast is like a troupe of strolling players in their black and white costumes with ruffled collars. Opening their suitcases they morph into the various animals /sea creatures /insects with figurative fur, feathers and fins. They become everything from dry, desiccated dinosaur bones, to bats, fish , penguins, kangaroos and assorted other animals. Lets not forget the butterflies! Throughout there is lots of tumbling, balancing etc. At one point– for the kangaroos– there is a huge very difficult skipping and balancing section and features a Russell Drysdale like illustration in the background. There are also some exquisite aerial acts, hula hooping and more! In this version the Swan is a male and there are assorted allusions to the traditional ‘’Swan Lake’’. Beautiful use is made of billowing pieces of blue cloth. Towards the end there is a wonderful sequence with red balloons (lady bugs ?) – several large balloons are floated, passed, caught and tossed through the audience and eventually returned. In another delightful section the young children loved there is a ‘shark attack’ where the cast as sharks ( or are they dolphins?) dart through the audience ‘kissing ‘them . Rap and break dancing segments are also included. Choreographically there are hints of Fosse and ‘Chicago’ as well as Murphy’s ‘Some Rooms ‘. Quincy Grant terrifically blends Camille Saint-Seans’ well known melodies with his own contemporary compositions. Flamenco rhythms as well as cajon, melodica, ukelele, guiro, whistle and didgeridoo are included. The young children in the audience absolutely loved it and so did the adults accompanying them . A dazzling ,delightful performance for all over 3 years old . Running time – just under an hour no interval Circa’s CARNIVAL OF THE ANIMALS, part of the Kids at the House program, runs at the Opera House until the 4th October.

The Legend of Mulan at the Concourse

This was superb! Here's my rave for Sydney Arts Guide In a blink-and-you-miss –it tour Sydney was privileged to see the Australian premiere of THE LEGEND OF MULAN by the Hong Kong Dance Company. Based on the much loved Chinese legend it tells the story of Mulan who becomes a female warrior, serving in the army in place of her father, and fighting many battles, in disguise as a man, before eventually returning home. Readers might be familiar with the Disney version. The recorded music was very effective– at times ominous drumbeats, at other times sweeter, and more lyrical passages, and there were Peking Opera influences too. The score was at times stirring, martial and military in style as well. There was impressive attention paid to the stunning, detailed flexible costumes, a couple of which were on display in the foyer. Yeung Tsz –Yan’s lighting was masterly at times starkly dramatic, at other times lyrical. Sunrise was contrasted with dark shadows and the use of silhouette, or striking, Cazneaux- like diagonal lighting meant one assumes to represent bamboo blinds. The multi-level flexible set highlighting a mountainscape was beautiful. Yang Yuntao’s astonishingly vibrant choreography was mostly Western and ballet based, neatly blending Peking Opera acrobatics, martial arts, Chinese folk dance and the exhilarating use of Chinese banners. Mulan has an extraordinary baton twirling like martial arts solo using her staff at one point. Some of the choreography was tight and very stylized. In some of the pas de deux there were death-defying jumps and leaps, similar in style to the work of Murphy or MacMillan. Dynamic use is made, at times, of rippling, flowing, heavily embroidered military banners. The leading ballerina Pan Lingjuan as Mulan is astonishing. At times , especially in the early sections of the work , she was for me reminiscent of a young Janet Vernon with her powerful presence, and electric, singing ‘line’ and fluid lines. Her solos were ravishing. A mesmerising, dazzling performance. The ensemble work was splendid. For the women, especially in the second half, there was plenty of beautiful unison work – the lantern dance entrance towards the end was exquisite .The ‘loom dance’ beforehand , with Mulan thinking of her friends back at home working on the loom, includes plenty of tight and repetitive ‘weaving’ choreography and the corps of women- all dressed in white -is a kind of the equivalent of depicting swans in classical Western ballet, though from an Eastern perspective. The strong, athletic male corps struts their stuff with plenty of tightly choreographed martial arts like sections and some parts are similar in style to the boy’s dance work in Murphy’s “After Venice’’. The General was strongly danced by Chen Juun in a commanding manner. When he finds out that Mulan is actually a woman, after posing tableaux like like a moon goddess, he is thunderstruck. Mulan’s stern but loving and supportive father was wonderfully performed by Huang Lei. There is a delightful dreamy section in Act1 with Mulan as a young girl being taught by her father and the reunion in Act 2 with Mulan returning as an almost unrecognizable warrior woman was very moving. This was a superbly danced visually stunning, spectacular production that fascinatingly blended East and West worlds .More please! Running Time- 1 hr 50 minutes with interval. The Hong Kong Dance Company’s presentation of THE LEGEND OF MULAN was performed at the Concourse, Chatswood between the 17th and 19th September. Cast- Mulan- Pan Lingjuan, General- Chen Juun, Father- Huang Lei Creatives- Director/Chorographer- Yang Yuntao, Associate Choreographer- Xie Yin, Playwright- Gerard CC Tsang, Music director/composer- Matthew Ma, Set designer -Yuen Han-Wai, Costume design-KarinChlu, Lighting- Yeung Tsz-Yan.

Shakespeare Tonight at the New Theatre

Hmm ... a bit disappointing perhaps Here's my Sydney Arts Guide review Sorry readers, while the underlying concept behind this show is fascinating and the excellent cast gave their all, this production felt quite flat and in need of some reworking. Part of this years’ Sydney Fringe, written by Paul Wilson and Tim Ferguson and directed by Pete Malicki , the premise of the show has Shakespeare is alive and well and working today. The performance we see is a TV interview with him- it’s Shakespeare’s first TV interview- along with his arch rival Francis Bacon. We have at last the opportunity to obtain answers to some burning questions that have kept us guessing for centuries such as:- Are the plays really his plays? What is the true nature of his relationship with his wife Anne? Why after years of writing comedies and romances has he turned to writing tragedies? In some ways the show is a bit like a ‘Reduced Shakespeare’ production, presented here as short soundbytes from a television show. The feel is very contemporary with the use of electric guitars, mobiles, ipads, Twitter and so on…Shakespeare aficionados will also pick up references to Will Kemp , Christopher Marlowe, Jack Horner amongst others. Tall, dark and bearded Damien Carr portrayed William Shakespeare very sympathetically, casually dressed in a torn leather jacket and black top and trousers, and with a dazzling smile. His portrayal came across as a bit bad boy Keith Richards like. He is put through the emotional wringer during the interview. We learn about his background, his relationship with his glover father and his work processes:– how he approaches writing a play etc. His portrayal of women is also questioned. There is a big fuss at one point about a notebook (possibly his father’s), and the question arises as to why his father has never come to see any of his shows… There is searing intense grief – Carr handles the monologue terrifically when discussing the death of his son Hamnet. I do have to ask the question, why on Earth during the play is there a scene which has Shakespeare carrying a knife around with him and then on national television take the knife out and clean his shoes with it?! Bacon is wonderfully played by Calib James and is portrayed as arrogant, opinionated and self centered. He is dressed in a a marvelous quasi ‘’Elizabethan ‘ black velvet top ( should one say ‘doublet ? ‘) with slashed sleeves and maroon coloured trousers. The sparring matches that take place between Bacon and Shakespeare are intense. It is obvious that the antagonism stretches back for years. Yet for some reason Bacon helps Shakespeare out with suggesting the phrase ‘to be or not to be’ whilst Shakespeare had been struggling with ‘to live or not to live’. Dark haired Martina Fleur who is the TV show hostess/emcee who asks probing questions was delightfully played by Rosemary Ghazi, wearing a slinky blue dress featuring a side split. We see her nervous before the show begins and her interactions with the stage manager – a lot rides on the ratings of this show! And she brings it to great success with excellent ratings. ’The Duke’, enthusiastically portrayed by Patrick Cullen, is the show’s warm up person/stand up comedian/singer but his running commentary and bad jokes generally fall flat. It is interesting the way that he is allowed to interact and comment on the show whilst the show is ‘live to air ‘and he is ‘off stage’ so to speak. Surely, in reality, this possibility would never occur. He also acts as narrator at the end telling us what happens to the various characters. Summing up, impressive performances in an interesting but rather disappointing show that needs more work. Running time an hour without interval. SHAKESPEARE TONIGHT is playing at the New Theatre as part of the Sydney Fringe until the 19th September

Melbourne City Ballet's Carmen

This was part of the Sydney Fringe. Here's my Dance Informa review Seymour Centre, Sydney. September 9, 2015. Using the much-loved opera as a base and hints of The Force of Destiny and Don Quixote, Carmen was the latest offering from Melbourne City Ballet. Technically the young dancers were sensational and gave terrific performances. They handled the sometimes repetitive, sometimes extremely demanding choreography very well. There were elements of Kenneth MacMillan and Graeme Murphy in the choreography, especially in some of the difficult partnering. And let’s not forget the Roland Petit version! Overall, this was a clean, prettified version; the narrative generally clear as the dancers attempt to portray the dark, swirling passions of the very dramatic story. There was use of castanets but no Flamenco dance as such. The ensemble work was terrifically done and the trios for the police and later the toreadors were splendid showcases for the terrific male dancers of the company. The costumes were lovely. I liked the laced corsets and the long, billowing ruffled skirts for the women. However, the semi-bare chested toreador jackets for the men were a bit awkward. There was lots of red silk cape swirling and bullring allusions. At times, it was quite dramatic and intense, and the pas de deux were excellent. Each of the pas de deux had distinctive dips, swoops, swirls, lifts and jumps to define the various relationships, which were very difficult. Some were light and glowing, some smouldering and sultry, and one in particular featured backbends and was a lot closer to the floor. The minimal set was most effectively done and the lighting was extremely atmospheric. Melbourne City Ballet’s ‘Carmen’. Photo courtesy of Melbourne City Ballet. Our Carmen was portrayed by tall blonde Nikki Blain, who was proud, haughty and aloof in a fine performance with some dazzling dancing. Don Jose was passionately performed by Brendan Bradshaw in a splendid dramatic performance. His jumps and turns were tremendous. Micaela was sensationally danced by Yuiko Masukawa. Her pas de deux with Don Jose was tremendous. She has beautiful port des bras and a lovely expressive line. Masukawa shows her as sweet and gentle but with hidden passionate depths. The rather exotic, dark and mysterious fortune teller Sophia was terrifically danced by Carolina Pais. Is she in fact controlling the whole story? The very handsome, rather supercilious Escamillio was dynamically danced by Michael Pappalardo. The washerwoman/opera singer was portrayed by Melissa Gall, who sang at appropriate times a couple of the famous arias, either with the recorded music or acapella, accompanying herself at one point with castanets. She wore a short blue and white dress. While very well performed, for me her voice was too light for this particular opera, and the blending of recorded music and live was, for me, rather incongruous. This was a most interesting version excellently danced.

Australian Brandenburg Orchestra with Kristian Bezuidenhout

A most delightful concert Here's my Sydney Arts Guide review Sydney has been treated to a delicate and quite subtle musical feast in the latest concert programme by the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra. Guest director Kristian Bezuidenhout, part of the Brandenburg family and now an international guest artist with the world’s leading musical ensembles, led from the keyboard and gave a very refined performance. Like one of the famous solo Romantic pianists his whole being appeared totally absorbed in the performance, subsumed in the music. Bezuidenhout is tall and gangly with large hands and very long fingers and he conducted very energetically, bouncing and almost dancing at times. The audience was hushed, rapt and attentive– as the cliche goes, you could have heard a pin drop. The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra on their period instruments were in glowing, enthusiastic form and played with a superlative, intimate tone. First up was J. C Bach’s Sinfonia in G major Op. 3, No. 6. The first movement had scurrying strings and was circular in atmosphere, vigorous and flowing. The second more stately movement was more melancholic and slower featuring a soaring, lush, eloquent melody. A dialogue between the two string sections bought this movement to a close. The third, much faster and darting movement was jaunty and concluded with a flourish. A highlight of the programme was Bach’s sublime Sinfonia in D minor for two flutes. This was an exquisite piece. The period flutes were played by Melissa Farrow and Mikaela Oberg in a soaring and floating, lush and delicate performance which was underpinned by the strings, and then a quite dramatic conversation between the sections of the Orchestra began, to be then joined by the flutes. Following on from this piece was the much anticipated Mozart Piano concerto in D minor No. 20, K. 466 with Bezuidenhout as soloist on his special fortepiano . The first movement had a strong, emphatic opening from the Orchestra and Bezuidenhout’s impassioned playing was sparkling, rippling and luminous. The second movement was a teasing dialogue between piano and orchestra, the piano cascading and shimmering. The third movement began very fast and agitated, developing into scurries and flurries from the Orchestra and Bezuidenhout on the piano attempting to keep the peace. The movement becomes a dynamic discussion between the orchestra and an emphatic soloist. Bezuidenhout‘s playing displayed a fanatical attention to detail and showed beautifully crafted phrasing, and a light touch combined with masterful subtlety and shading. Rubato was used to indicate an important transition or a climactic chord. The short Mozart piece Andante for Flute, K 315 after interval featured soloist Melissa Farrow in a beautiful pearl grey long gown that had a cowl neckline with a bejeweled stomacher and a rosette on her shoulder. With her authentic period flute which has a mellow tone, the crystal like notes were ravishing and exquisite, and the soaring melodies enchanting . The bulk of the second half consisted of the Mozart Symphony No. 36 in C major ‘Linz’ K 425. Bezuidenhout gave a charismatic performance. The first movement had an emphatic opening and was quite bouncy, rather tumultuous and there were scurries and flurries from the Orchestra. Were we meant to pick up snippets of a quote from the Hallelujah Chorus from Haydn’s Messiah?! In the other movements delicate slow and stately measures were contrasted with dancelike strains. A melody was taken and passed around the various sections of the orchestra. There were brisk and emphatic sections featuring shimmering strings and it ends in a dramatic, tempestuous finale. Concert running time just over 2 hours. The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra with Kristian Bezuidenhout in Mozart’s Fortepiano concert is playing selected dates between the 9th and the 19th September at the City Recital Hall Angel Place as well as concerts taking place in Melbourne.