Saturday, 27 February 2016

All My Love intimate Lennox Theatre at the Riverside came richly to life with this gem of a historical play written by Australian writer, Anne Broadsbank. ALL MY LOVE charts the story of the relationship between two major Australian literary figures, starting with how at the end of the 19th century, Mary Gilmore a literary icon and radical socialist was introduced to a young Henry Lawson. The playwright used as her source, the poems and letters that they wrote to each other over time. As their friendship developed, Mary found herself caught in the midst of an intense relationship between Henry and his formidable Suffragette mother, Louisa. (Louisa is an invisible, dominating presence through the play). What ensues is the start of a love affair including a secret engagement which is then thwarted by a devastating deception. Brooksbank’s play depicts their mutual love for their country as well as their belief in women’s rights and social equality There is a simple, flexible set that allows for fluid scene changes which includes a raised platform that also acts as a projection screen, and at either side of the stage, there are chairs and tables that can represent a flat in London, a Sydney park, an ocean liner and more. Denny Lawrence directs with a gentle, sure touch and allows the two performers to shine. There is very effective atmospheric lighting and Chris Hubbard’s soundscape, incorporating the work of composer Jack Ellis with some delicate piano, and some great sound effects. Kim Denman gives an exciting portrayal of Mary Gilmore who Broodbank also assigns the role of narrator. She captures this strong willed, intense, talented woman- poet, activist, lover. We see Gilmore develop from a young, inspired teacher to a fervent socialist, a concerned friend to a passionate lover. We also follow her in her travels from Sydney to Paraguay to the freezing United Kingdom and then back home again Dion Mills, who has a good resemblance to Lawson, gives a vibrant, charming performance and depicts his characters’ intense and tormented nature. We see the struggling poet that Lawson always felt himself to be, and the lack of self-esteem which plagued him for most of his life. He is shown as extremely patriotic, concerned with social justice and equality, as was Gilmore, and having to contend with a fiercely protective, loving father. Much of the vulnerable, turbulent depths of Lawson’s character is revealed and we see him torn between his commitment to his forceful mother and his love for Gilmore. This was a compelling play featuring fine performances as well as providing a fascinating and rich insight into the political and social history of the time. A Christine Harris and Hit Productions production , Anne Broadsbank’s ALL MY LOVE played only a brief season at the Lennox theatre, Riverside theatres between the 17th and 20th February.

Little Shop of Horrors

Loved this fabulous show! me, Seymour! Yes, the fabulous cult classic musical has returned with this dazzlingly superb production at the Hayes. Viewers might be familiar with the 1986 film starring Steve Martin and previous stage versions of the 1982 off-Broadway show. This is a magnificent black comedy musical which can be read as a moral fable about the pitfalls and horrors of capitalism and the prevalence of the greed is good mentality. Styled on the B grade sci-fi horror movies of the 1950′s, the plot is set down in Skid Row and sees mild and meek flower shop assistant Seymour Krelborn (Brent Hill) come across a weird new plant species, which he names after his stunning but vulnerable colleague Audrey (Esther Hannaford). The sinister plant appears to be his ticket to fame and fortune, but the plant, (which feeds on one sort of dangerously obtained food only ), unexpectedly grows and grows…and GROWS! Seymour discovers horribly that feeding his ambition starts to demand horribly fussier and juicier ingredients. Eventually, Seymour and Audrey must battle the perilous and persuasive plant- not just for their lives, but for the very future of planet Earth! This current revival of the classic show has been brought to us by the producers and award-winning creative team behind the 2014 production of Sweet Charity, and joining forces with them are the master puppet-makers Erth who have created a very exciting and new Audrey II for the 21st century. Lovingly and brilliantly directed by Dean Bryant , with its superb cast , Act 1 is all in black and white like a grainy 1950’s movie. As we take our seats we see a galaxy spinning … Act 2 is in bright bold colour with dynamic floral costumes. In Act 1 we can see that the floor of the Mushnik florist shop is slightly tilted – in Act 2, when Audrey 2 is huge, this is far more obscured. The excellent band is hidden behind all this. The snazzy choreography, showbizzy and typical of the 1960’s girl bands of the time, is tight and snappy throughout yet fluid where required. Esther Hannaford is excellent as the beautiful Audrey and sings superbly in a thrilling performance. Her comic timing is superb. She is smart but put upon (a victim of domestic violence by her boyfriend the dentist) and exploited (not paid enough by Mr Mushnik and way overworked in Act2 once the Mushnik and Son business has taken off – ‘Call Back In The Morning’). Audrey longs to break away from the horrible, mad Orin Scrivello her boyfriend but is petrified as to what he would do to her if she left. She likes Seymour but doubts he would like her. Everything changes once Scrivello mysteriously vanishes…( The wickedly delightful Suddenly Seymour duet in Act2 had the audience cheering). All she wants is to escape to ‘somewhere that‘s green’. There are allusions to Les Miserables and Rent with the reprise of the ballad, . Nerdy, endearing,downtrodden bespectacled Seymour is terrifically played by Brent Hill, who also impressively provides the voice for Audrey 11, That weird eclipse when he discovers Audrey 2 changes his life. Seymour has a major moral dilemma in both acts (how to feed the voraciously demanding Audrey 2 and what to do about the mysterious disappearances of Scrivello and Mr Mushnik for starters, let alone all the TV and lecture offers he receives…The increasing line of agents and TV people with offers is hilarious. ( bravo Dash Kruck). Mr Mushnik is splendidly played by Tyler Coppin (Strictly Ballroom, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) with enormous relish and impeccable timing. The exuberant Mushnik and Son duet with Seymour in Act 1 stops the show- there are allusions to both Oliver!and Fiddler On The Roof– much fun. Mr Mushnik’s life dramatically changes too, from running a small, struggling business to one where the phones literally ring off the hook and he can update to elegant new clothes. As Orvin Srivello DDS , every patient’s nightmare, Scott Johnson is creepily handsome, overbearing, sadistic, dominating and self centered . His black biker jacket has sinister tones. Johnson’s wonderfully dark Be A Dentist brought the house down .He is very cruel to Audrey. His death could be regarded as rather appropriate. The guy sure looks like plant food to me…. Chiffon, Ronnette and Crystal, the wonderful girl trio, make for a smart and very sassy chorus. Their singing is vibrant, and their clever interactions with the main characters move the story forward. Joyously performed, this magnificent production was rapturously received by the opening night audience . Book now to avoid disappointment. Whatever you do just don’t feed the plants! Running time 2 hours 20 (approx.) including interval. LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS is playing at the Hayes Theatre, Greenknowe Avenue until the 19th March and then is going on national tour.

ACO Beethoven and the 21st Century 39 year old Finnish violinist Pekko Kuusisto, an exciting and sought after international soloist in his own right, is now in charge of the ACO Collective, the 17-piece ensemble that is the major face of the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s (ACO) national touring section. This is whilst the ‘main’ orchestra, with Richard Tognetti, are premiering The Reef in New York, Richmond and Los Angeles. Kuusisto has a dynamic, impressive stage presence that is somewhat impish and playful yet focused and elegant. He led the Collective energetically and displayed, at times, almost balletic gestures. Kuusisto and the Collective engaged the audience with an exciting, innovative program featuring a challenging mix of classic masterpieces, a reworked Beethoven quartet, and modern works. The concert began with Kuusisto welcoming everyone and explaining that the works would be melded together with no specific breaks. The first half was very contemporary. Nicco Muhly’s Material in E flat featuring a striking virtuoso violin section, was already being played, with Kuusisto accompanying, as the ensemble walked on stage. Interestingly the piece contained some very every day sounds such as that of vacuum cleaners and fridge motors. Estonian Erkki-Sven Tuur’sAction, Passion, Illusion was played in three parts surrounding the other two works but not played in that order-Illusion was performed last with its breathless, shimmering ,insistent scurrying, whirling strings. Passion, with its hurrying feeling, featured an interweaving of cellos and basses, and Action featured crisp harmonies. The central piece, Tippett’s Lament from Variations on an Elizabethan Theme had a tremulous darting opening and a somewhat ominous tone at times.It built frantically in intensity then slowed down becoming more reflective, and then coming to a fragile ending. The work used a theme by Purcell and yet had modernist chords. Bryce Dessner‘s enebre was a powerful hypnotic work, pulsating and atmospheric , with prerecorded voices, an organ like sound and a syncopated finale with some cascading glissandi. The piece also had references to Baroque and other earlier composers. With the wonderful playing of the Collective there was a rich sound yet it was also pulled back, focused or softer when necessary. In the second half we first heard Sibelius’ Rakastava (The Lover). This piece was full of romantic longing. It was considered very experimental for its time and was trademark Sibelian in style, and quite nationalistic in character. In the first movement there were elegiac, thoughtful, yearning strings. The second, eloquently dreamy movement, The Path of the Beloved, was far sunnier and more dance-like with the Orchestra oozing a feeling of great rhythmic unity and delicious use of pizzicati , finishing with six notes on a triangle. The third movement Good Night– Farewell , featured a major change of mood and was replete with exquisite solos for cello and violin and ended with a return to the atmosphere of the first movement. A concert highlight was the last work played- Tognetti’s arrangement of Beethoven’s String Quartet No.11 in F minor, Op. 95. In this imaginative arrangement, with its warm tone and full string sound, the symphonic potential of the thematic material was developed to its full potential. The complexities of the ideas and the emotion conveyed by the dialogue between the various instrumental sections , increasing in intensity, were true to Beethoven’s original. The last of Beethoven’s ‘” middle-period “ quartets, the piece has kick-started the ACO’s significant exploration of the late quartets, which has been programmed in its concerts through the year. The first movement began explosively and emphatically with tempestuous, scurrying strings. The second movement, while it has more twisted, capricious themes, was more lyrical and stately The third, final movement featured more dynamic, swirling playing and delicate trios interspersed by a Viennese waltz , leading to an exuberant end. The concert ran for just under two hours including one interval. The ACO’s BEETHOVEN AND THE 21st CENTURY was performed at the City Recital Hall Angel Place between the 13th and 19th February 2016 after having toured across Australia. Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)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)

Willoughby Symphony Gala

My review of this for Sydney Arts Guide years’ wonderful series of concerts by the Willoughby Symphony Orchestra began with their program simply entitled GALA. GALA consisted of well- known much loved opera favourites and utilised the combined forces and magnificent talents of the Orchestra as well as the Willoughby Symphony Choir and three terrific soloists. Under the exuberant, energetic baton of Dr Nicholas Milton the Orchestra was in dazzling form. Dr Milton introduced each of the works in the program, often adding a humorous comment The programme opened with a fast, fiery and explosive performance of the Prelude from Bizet’s Carmen. Then came an exuberant, joyous Noble Seigneurs, salut! from Meyerbeer’s Les Hugenots, introducing mezzo Jermaine Chau in a stunning, slinky black evening gown .She entered through the audience and shook hands with people in the front row while showing off her scintillating range and coloratura fireworks. This was followed by a thrilling, stirring Matador’s Chorus from Verdi’s La Traviata, with a whirling, triumphant finale with thye work of the Willoughby Symphony Chorus a real highlight. Musetta’s Waltz ( Quando m’en vo ) from Puccini’s La Boheme was next. This piece was deliciously, flirtatiously sung by Taryn Srhoj who wore a resplendent blue dress and a glittering diamante top. Dr Milton then introduced Michael Butchard, in fine tenor voice, very handsome in a tuxedo ,he was a perfect choice as the Duke from Verdi’s Rigoletto – he had the audience in the palm of his hand. This was followed by the greatly contrasting hushed, sensitive and pensive Evening Prayer from Humperdinck’s Hansel und Gretel , a lyrical duet for Srhoj and Chau that was simply ravishing. The rousing Va, Pensorio ( Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves) from Verdi’s Nabucco came next . Stirring and powerful , the Choir thundered. Taking us through to interval there was a further selection from Puccini’s La Boheme –the enchanting Che gelida manina superbly sung by Butchard , then the Mi Chiamano Mimi sweetly sung by Srhoj, and the sweepingly romantic duet for Mimi and Rodolfo, O soave fanciulla ending with the soaring Amor , Amor ( love .. love.. ) – very appropriate on Valentine’s Day. Act 2 opened tempestuously with the Orchestra playing the Toreador’s Song from Bizet’s Carmen. There was a special emphasis on the trumpet leading the melody and it blazingly finished with pizzicato from the string section. Jau then joined them, in a purple dress this time, for a sultry, seductive Habanera. A vibrant, enthusiastic version of the Anvil Chorus from Verdi’s Il Trovatore followed, with a spiky beginning . The choir went to town on this piece. Special mention must also be made of the Orchestra’s excellent percussion section. The lush, lyrical, delicately beautiful Flower Duet from Delibe’s Lakme followed, with Srhoj and Chau voices’ swooping and soaring as they tossed rose petals onto the stage and into the audience. The two ladies exited through a spellbound audience followed by a gentle sighing pizzicato finish from the Orchestra. The fragile, shimmering Humming Chorus from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly followed , with a heart breaking, sensitive performance from the Choir. The great tenor showstopper Nessun Dorma from Puccini’s Turnadot was next with Butchard giving a dazzling , powerful and hypnotic performance. The strings rippled leading towards the tumultuous finale and there was rapturous applause. Elephants, lions and tigers oh my! The Orchestra and Choir combined in a powerful rendition of the epic, overwhelming spectacular Triumphal March from Verdi’s Aida , featuring a blazing trumpet . The audience lapped it up, enthusiastically joining the crowds praising Pharaoh. Submitting to the overwhelmingly warm audience response the concert ended with three unlisted encores. The first encore featured a dynamic, hot and sexy solo by Srhoj from Lehar’s Giuditta. This was followed by a lilting, exquisite performance by Srhoj and Chau of Barcarolle from The Tales of Hoffman ( Offenbach) sung as duet by Srhoj and Chau – you could almost see the Venetian gondolas bobbing. To conclude the performance , Butchard, Srhaj and Chau led the audience in the Brindisi ( drinking song) from La Traviata. Audience response was a little confused and messy, but a lot of fun. Running time 2 hours 15 including interval. Willoughby Symphony Orchestra’s GALA program was performed at the Concourse on the 13th and 14th February. If their first concert program is any measure, then the Willoughby Symphony Orchestra is set to have another outstanding year. For more information and bookings-

Opera Australia Luisa Miller

Here's my review as on Sydney Arts Guide This Verdi opera is rarely performed , despite having a series of show stopping arias in both acts. It was first performed in 1849 and is based on Schiller’s play Love and Intrigue. It was written at the beginning of his ‘middle period ‘, which includes popular favourites like Il Trovatore and Rigoletto, and concludes with La Traviata. This version comes from the Opéra de Lausanne and is directed by Giancarlo del Monaco. The first thing you notice about this amazing production is William Orlandi’s extraordinary set which rather dominates the proceedings. A white sculptural domestic tableaux of an idealised family , complete with a fireplace with a bust of Verdi observing , is cantilevered in a coup de theatre to act as a reflective mirror of the action. ( Death overturned by all conquering love ?) The stage set is black and reflective with various scaffolding and sections that are adjusted as required. LUISA MILLER opens Evita like with what appears to be Luisa’s funeral. Luisa is lying on a huge bier garlanded with flowers .The candle carrying chorus enter sombrely garbed in Edwardian black .They mostly loomed ominously and sang in the shadows, but burst out explosively when necessary, as in the end of Act 1. Under the dynamic enthusiastic baton of Andrea Licata the orchestra played superbly, at times with great range and detail, at other times with enormous impact as in the concluding Act. The narrative begins with two young people in love- Luisa, who is the daughter of injured, retired soldier Miller, and Rodolfo, the local count’s son in disguise. (Shades of Rigoletto and Giselle) . Rodolfo passionately declares his love for Luisa but is forbidden to continue the liason by his domineering father, while , to save her father’s life, Luisa is menacingly forced into declaring that she ‘loves’ the Count’s sinister, villainous steward Wurm. Through the opera there is sniping at blue-blood snobbery whilst, at the same time, extolling the decent bourgeois life, and like several Verdi operas, such as Rigoletto and Don Carlos, the work also sharply critiques family life and love relationships. There are six main characters performed by a superb cast . The eponymous role of Luisa was sung by diva Nicole Car who some are calling the next Dame Joan Sutherland, freshly returned from wowing audiences and critics in London. Car is splendid in her first Verdi role, and brings dramatic force and power to the opera’s climactic moments, Her voice has agility, an elegant coloratura and a bright resonance combined with great dark liquid shades as well . The duets with her father as well as with her lover were a great highlight. As Rodolfo, Diego Torre was impassioned and fiery with great dramatic force. He has a huge voice but scaled it back at times to great effect, and his singing featured some glorious top notes. His show stopping aria Quando le sere al placido was magnificent , garnering much applause and bravos, and the final duet with Car was enthralling. Slovakian baritone Dalibor Jenis (who was Car’s 2014 Onegin in Sydney) was in refined , controlled glorious vocal form as Luisa’s injured, elderly father. His portrayal was very sympathetic. Jenis showed off his wonderful legato and powerful tone especially in his show stopping aria, Sacra la scelta è d’un consorte (The choice of a husband is sacred). He will do whatever he can to protect his beloved daughter. In this opera Verdi has provided two terrific roles for evil basses, one of the great composer’s penchants. American Raymond Aceto was wonderful as the complex, implacable Count Walter. While acknowledging that he was in thrall to the Devil, he was also nonetheless driven by a sort of patriarchal, authoritarian love. Aceto demonstrated a strong stage presence and his voice was superb- his aria Il mio sangue la vita darei was thrilling. Daniel Sumegi with his deep, resonating bass was inspired and creepy as the menacing Wurm, a character out for all that he can get. The duet, where each realise they may both be doomed, is yet another thrilling showstopper. Sian Pendry is great as ’ the other woman’, the widowed duchess who is deeply in love with her childhood friend, Rodolfo. Pendry is a picture of elegance in a very posh, stylish long black gown. She sings superbly, bringing her character sympathetically to life with a warm tone, strong focus and great expression. There are sadly only a few performances remaining of this rarely performed opera – try and catch it if you can. Running time – allow 3 hours including one interval. Opera Australia’s Production of LUISA MILLER is playing the Joan Sutherland Auditorium until the 29th February.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Godspell Reimagined dear. Sorry readers, but yes, while it opened appropriately enough on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, this production of GODSPELL REIMAGINED-based on Stephen Schwartz’s (Music and Lyrics) and John-Michael Tebelak’s (Book) classic musical, is unfortunately a Godspell dumbed down’ for the masses. The cast is good and there are some nifty lighting effects especially in Act 2 however unfortunately there is a rather juvenile approach to the whole show. While yes, the idea is great to update the show so that there are contemporary references, (for example, John ‘taking a selfie’ with Jesus and references to Donald Trump and the Tinder website), some of the gags are in bad taste and repeated unnecessarily. In the telling of the parables everything is spelled out laboriously as if for a very young audience just past Playschool age. The music has been reworked to have an over amplified rock opera feel with a heavy emphasis on blistering electric guitar work. There is no consistency. Alas For You however in Act 2 is given a Latin-American feel including the use of bongo drums wheeled on specially, which quite changes the feel of the song. A lot of the songs, usually thought to be solos, were here inexplicably performed after the first verse as full out ensemble work, at times greatly changing the mood of the particular song. The young, multi talented cast perform terrifically with great commitment, energy and enthusiasm , struggling valiantly. The band members are included as members of followers of Jesus and are involved in the telling of some of the parables. The choreography by Ellen Shook was effective but stilted and cliched. The set was flexible with a raised platform area for the musicians. The set mostly consists of a few 44 gallon drums, some cut to provide varying stage levels , painted in neutral tones , covered in assorted religious and philosophical images, which act as storage for various props and costumes as well as seating. There was sort of abandoned warehouse or backlot feeling to the whole setting. The show begins with the cast all elegantly booted and suited as salesmen, feverishly pitching consumerism , they then strip down to close to underwear and dig out the assorted motley of costumes– various jackets , hats etc in the drums. Is the implication that they are meant to be strolling players? Jesus was well played by handsome Christopher Southall, a fine actor with a delightful tenor voice , wearing a vibrant tshirt and elegant black leather pants and boots. I couldn’t quite understand the channeling of Sir Robert Helpmann and the Easter Bunny rabbit ears in his excellent solo It’s all for the Best? Mark Dickinson, tall, leonine and elegantly bearded, doubling as John and Judas, had a commanding stage presence. In contrast to Southall his voice has a somewhat darker deeper tone. Dickinson and Southall act as great foils during the show. For the women, Louisa Fitzhardinge is terrific, delightfully singing On The Willows and impressive in the Learn Your Lessons Well. Louisa also plays a huge variety of other characters ranging from sheep , Pharisees and Trump. Lucy Gransbury is a little more worldly wise and saucier in her vivid range of assorted portrayals although her leading the of the spicy Turn Back O Man came across a bit flat and mechanical though she nailed the song’s sultry jazz aspect. The show’s mostly joyous and light hearted atmosphere changes at the end and we are left with the sombre, dramatic representation of the Crucifixion. This production (producers Simon Myers and Moira Bennett), directed by Glen Elston, was a valiant effort, and the younger members of the audience seemed thrilled , but it just didn’t work. Running time 2 hours including interval. GODSPELL is playing at the Playhouse, Sydney Opera House until the 14th February.

Feelings Are Facts : The Life of Yvonne Rainer

This is a terrific documentary here's what I said for Sydney Arts Guide Screening as part of the Mardi Gras Film Festival this is a fascinating and informative documentary examining the life and complex works of Yvonne Rainer. Dance fans and those interested in the history of film and performance art especially pertaining to New York artistic life from the 160’s to now will be enthralled. Feelings Are Facts is also the title of Rainer’s book published back in 2006. Rainer- perhaps most famous for her “NO “ manifesto- is an American dancer, choreographer, writer and film maker- her work across these assorted fields is often defined as ‘Minimalist’ and regarded as challenging, experimental and confronting, and seen as pushing the boundaries of what can be defined as Art. Over the course of her career, Rainer has choreographed over forty works. She is perceived as having revolutionised modern dance, created what later became known as performance art, and changed the basic principles of experimental filmmaking- all during a time when women were largely ignored in the art world. Born in San Francisco, Rainer began to achieve fame as a member of the Judson Dance Theater in Greenwich Village between 1962 and 1964. Influenced in part by the theories of Merce Cunningham and John Cage, their use of chance and structure, the Judson’s inspired, very exciting cross-disciplinary approach soon attracted huge audiences. A quote from a New York Times review at the time observed that, “there was hardly anything conventional about it.” After leaving Judson, Rainer developed the work which continues to be regarded as her signature piece, the radically minimalist solo piece Trio A (1966) which we see performed in the movie. The film switches between such clips and contemporary interviewees, who place Rainer’s unapologetically difficult works in context. Interviewees include Rainer’s partner Gever, and such luminaries as Lucinda Childs, Carolee Schneemann, B. Rubym Rich, Su Friedrich and Steve Paxton and Pat Catterson. We are left wanting more information about her turbulent family history. Her rather stormy relationship with Robert Morris is briefly referred to. Rainer read feminist theory and writing and dissected her own experience as a woman, where she was able to value and define herself as a participant in culture and society. Eventually she began attending Gay Pride Parades and considered herself a “political lesbian“. At the age of 56, Rainer overcame her fears of identifying as a lesbian by becoming intimate with her long term partner Martha Gever and they have been together ever since. The film is mostly chronological but does jumps around about a bit, with her Trio A, an acknowledgement of the Cunningham and Graham influence and sometimes uses 2012 footage of early works such as Three Satie Spoons (to Satie’s Gymnopedies- so different to Ashton’s Monotones!). There’s also her Three Seascapes (to Rachmaninov). Rainer was attempting to include everyday movement in her work, to create a new lexicon of movement. In the We Shall Run (1963) the floor patterns were rigorously determined beforehand. It would also be interesting perhaps to have had a trifle more critical analysis of the films she has made. She began to develop ‘situations’ with objects, and footage of the 1969 political piece People’s Flag Show is included. We also see sections of her films Kristina Talking Pictures (1976), Lives of Performers and Journeys From Berlin (1979). There is also Murder MURDER (1996) and the 1985 The Man Who Envied Women. In later years Rainer returned to dance making and created a piece for Baryshnikov’s White Oak company in 2000, with Baryshnikov performing. We are led to performances of Spiralling Down’ ( to Ravel’s Bolero ) and then the 2011 works Assisted Living and Good Sports. Rainer is presented as a steely visionary, acutely intelligent and articulate, inspiring to her colleagues and performers, and constantly questioning and raising uncomfortable issues such as colonialism, menopause, terrorism, patriarchy, death, sex and desire in older people. Currently Rainer continues to explore, still creating unpredictable, challenging and vibrant work, and inspiring a younger generation of artists to think, question, challenge, and formulate intriguing, exciting new works of their own. Feelings Are Facts : The Life of Yvonne Rainer screens at Carriageworks as part of the Mardi Gras Film Festival on 20th February. Running time 90 minutes no interval.

West Side Story

A splendid performance This version of Bernstein’s much loved ‘opera for the people’, first performed in 1957 was an impressive, passionate production. The audience got to relive again the great dark scenes- the fighting scenes, the attempted rape of Maria, the brash, humorous scenes- Gee, Officer Krupke, and the very romantic scenes- such as the scene where Tony and Maria first see each other across a crowded room at the gym- One Hand One Heart . Drugstore owner Doc and Officer Krupke try to act as father figures keeping the peace, (with echoes of the Duke and Friar Lawrence in Shakespeare’s play), but tragically fail. The production featured multi level fluid sets and scene changes that slid /flew in and out. The koken- like stage hands were visible for ‘Tonight’ with Maria and Tony on the fire escape landing as it is swivelled and swirled around the stage . The orchestra under the energetic and enthusiastic baton of Peter Hayward delivered a great rendition of Bernstein’s difficult, operatic score. Costumes as designed by Georgia Davis evoked the 1950′s era. The Jerome Robbin’s choreography was exuberantly recreated and danced with its slides and panther like leaps . In Act 1 in the dance at the gym the hot Latin-American style of the Sharks was well contrasted with the far different ‘social dance’ of the Jets. The fights and rumbles were tightly , precisely choreographed. The weakest section in the show, the ‘Somewhere Ballet ‘in Act 2 with its apricot/pink and blue/green costumes reminding me a little of early Cunningham. The big company numbers were performed well. In Act 1 there was the Jet Song and Cool for the men , and a sizzling, dynamic America for the women. In Act 2 there was the dreamlike already mentioned ‘Somewhere Ballet’ for everyone, and ‘Gee ,Officer Krupke’ for the men . Luigi Lucente as our doomed hero Tony was tremendous. He had a light , lyrical tenor voice. Lucente’s portrayed Tony as a peaceful person , tragically caught up in the whirlwind of events. The most operatic voice of in the production came from Elisa Colla playing heroine Maria. was indeed pretty and alluring. She is in fine form and sings with passionate commitment ( eg “ I have a love”) .Maria and Tony’s duets ( eg Tonight and Somewhere ) are splendid. Rowena Vilar as Anita deliciously sizzles and has great fun stealing the show with America. Her rendition of A Boy Like That was darker and more ominous. Leader of the Jets Riff was well played by Jonathan Nash- Daly. His opposition , Maria’s brother Bernardo , leader of the Sharks, was smoulderingly played by Julian Kuo. This was a powerful, punchy and gripping production featuring some memorable, exuberant dancing. Running time- 2 hours and 30 minutes including one interval. Rumble in to the Riverside Theatre at Parramatta and get yourself some tickets. The show is playing until the 20th February.

NT LIve Jane Eyre

This was excellent , a thrilling version The latest in the marvelous NT Live screenings, this epic, sprawling production, some three and a half hours long, is a co -production between the Bristol Old Vic and the National Theatre. The production originally was even longer and the Company spaced it over two nights. For its transfer to the National in London, director Sally Cookson has adapted and abridged it to fit into one evening. This is an extraordinary vivid, compelling and gripping production that is faithful to the great Bronte classic. For those unfamiliar with the book, the story is as follows- Impetuous , passionate orphan Jane Eyre ( here played by Madeleine Worrall), coldly rejected and stifled by her relatives, somehow survives her appalling childhood to find unexpected freedom when she arrives at Thornfield Hall to be meet with acceptance, family and an ally in the master of the house, Mr Rochester (here played by Felix Hayes).However appearances are deceptive , and Jane soon unearths sinister secrets within the walls of Thornfield… The production very quickly covers Jane’s very early life as a mewling infant, voiced by the adult Jane, as we see first her parents, then her kindly uncle, descend via a trapdoor into a tomb swirling with dry ice that will eventually also hold Jane’s friend, Helen Burns (Laura Elphinstone). The very young orphaned Jane is left to the uncaring management of her Aunt Reed (Maggie Tagney) and the hypocritical falsely pious yet quite menacing Mr Brocklehurst (Craig Edwards), principal of Lowood Institution. Michael Vale’s striking , almost abstract set of a ramp, ladders and a raised platform is deceptively simple and allows for very fluid and varied use by the cast who climb, cling, scurry and run about the set . In fact the cast themselves become walls at various points as well as, among other things, a stagecoach and a dingy classroom. Lowood is represented by a collection of suspended dresses. The lighting design by Aideen Malone is superb and features some glorious moments highlighting the stars , and the floating wedding veil. And not forgetting the fires. Katie Syke’s costumes declare the era the play is set in yet allow for fluid changes where necessary. The production featured a small band of musicians, including drum kit and harp. Contemporary songs were blended with a mixture of other genres including jazz, touches of electro, folk songs and even a bit of Noel Coward to make for a captivating score. Soloist Melanie Mason, wearing a red dress, ( it is eventually revealed that she is Bertha , Rochester’s mad wife , hidden in the attic ) appeared at important points with forceful yet delicate vocals. Dance and movement were also integrated into the plot and became a crucial element in providing added texture and substance to the production. The entire cast of ten were magnificent and they, apart from Madeline Worrall as Jane , who was onstage almost the entire time, inhabited numerous various roles regardless of race, age or gender. The use of the cast as multiple voices expressing Jane’s anguished internal monologues worked very effectively. Maggie Tagney excellently contrasted the warm, friendly housekeeper Mrs Fairfax with her portrayal of the cold, horrid aunt, Mrs Reed. Simone Saunders was delightful as Bessie, elegant Blanche Ingram and bespectacled Diana Rivers. Laura Elphinstone gave an almost saintly endurance to her portrayal of Helen Burns at Lowood, was exuberant and charming as Adele and impassioned and grandiloquent as St John Rivers. It was hard to believe that all three roles were played by the one person . As Jane, Madeline Worrall evocatively conveys her fury at her childhood experience of loss and injustice. She is small and feisty, a survivor, brave and solitary. Worrall shows Jane as an energetic problem solver, vivacious and at times volcanic. Tall, bearded Felix Hayes as Rochester was gruff and boorish , at times full of darkness and self loathing , bearer of many hidden secrets. He was touchy and petulant yet also sensitive and repentant. Special mention must be made of Craig Edwards scene stealing performance as the dog Pilot. This was a cyclical, strongly feminist version/reading of the book that attempts to follow Jane’s psychological journey focusing as much, if not more, on Jane’s early childhood as on the love story and what eventuates at Thornfield. We see Jane standing up to her ghastly kin, turning passionately against the cold bullying and meanness of the charity school regime, and standing up for the disadvantaged. As well the audience feels the major emotional journey Jane travels – from the neglect and misery of her early childhood , to the oppression and excessive strictness of Lowood School, through to her life changing time as governess at Thornfield Hall and then her flight to sanctuary with St John Rivers and his sister, before her eventual reunion with Rochester. There is a telling quotation that comes from one of Jane’s musings near the beginning of her time at Thornfield that goes a long way to describing this movie’s take on the classic novel:- “It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it.” Running time three and a half hours including one interval which includes a short behind the scenes documentary on the making of the movie. NT Live’s presentation of JANE EYRE will screen at Palace Cinemas from the 13th February.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

La Traviata This dynamic, passionate production is a somewhat abridged, striking version of the ever popular Verdi opera that tells the tragic love story of Violetta and Alfredo. LA TRAVIATA is the first production by Opera Projects for 2016. In this version it is all seen through the eyes of Count Germont’s grandson, who acts as the narrator and frames the story as he discovers his grandfather’s diary and regrets how he wrecked the happiness of his son Alfredo and Violetta. The very handsome Tama Matheson plays the narrator, he is also the show’s director, unearths the diary and reads it to us, thus setting the scene and telling the story. The diary is read to us in English, the opera sung in Italian. Matheson sometimes struggles to be heard over the orchestra – especially in the opening section – nevertheless he is very impressive. This version is minimally staged. Effective use is made of the tiny stage and the two small sets of stairs each side , and there is a Van Gogh like table and chair for the narrator. The costumes are a little contemporary yet also reminiscent of the 1870’s, the time in which the opera is set. The production featured a very good lighting design which added a lot of atmosphere to the performance. There was fine ensemble work from the chorus. A highlight of their work was when they exuberantly burst into the audience with the Bacchanal Chorus in Act 2. The smallish orchestra, with a large string section, under the elegant baton of Bradley Gilchrist, gave an inspired rendition of Verdi’s sweeping , romantic score . Matheson and Gilchrist are blessed with an exceptional Violetta – this is her show. Catherine Bouchier is sensational, singing and acting her heart out. In Act 1 she wears a lovely off-the-shoulder turquoise gown and with her long blonde hair she looks like a mermaid or a storybook princess perhaps. She is at first dazzled and puzzled by her attraction to Alfredo, (È strano! … Ah, fors’è lui) but still wants her freedom (Sempre libera) then becomes strong and determined in her love for him. Her acceptance of the Count’s demands to give him up (Dite alla giovine, sì bella e pura) is heartrending. In this version she is ill from the start and goes on to die tragically but ecstatically in Alfredo’s arms. Our Alfredo, Simon Kim, sang magnificently . At first he seemed quite reserved but he thawed and soared (Un di ,felice , eterea). The duets were terrifically sung (Parigi, o cara, noi lasceremo). The famous brindisi Libiamo ne’ lieti calici had us all surreptitiously humming along. As Count Germont, Alfredo’s father, the legendary John Bolton Wood was magnificent and in splendid voice. He was bald, portly and full of commanding authority like a sinister politician. His arias such as Pura siccome un angelo Iddio mi diè una figlia were memorably delivered, his Di Provenza il mar, il suol chi dal cor ti cancellò? brought the house down. The show ended, there was a moment’s silence, and then came thunderous applause, combined with cheers and screams of Bravo. Running time- 2 hours and 30 minutes including one interval. This was a great start to their 2016 season for Opera Projects. LA TRAVIATA was performed at the the Independent Theatre North Sydney on the 29th and 31st January. Next up for Opera Projects will be Madame Butterfly and Peirrot Lunaire in March.

The Importance of Being Earnest

Starring David Suchet ... here's what I said for Sydney Arts Guide at London’s Vaudeville Theatre late last year, Oscar Wilde’s deliciously witty satire on Victorian manners was scintilattingly directed by Adrian Noble (Amadeus, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The King’s Speech). The pacing and comic timing was excellent. Of the play’s three acts, Act 3 was my favourite. For those unfamiliar with Wilde’s play the plot can be summarised as follows:- This is a frothy, brilliantly written comedy of concealed identities and long lost babies among other things. Two bachelor friends, upper class elegant dandy Algernon Moncrieff ( Philip Cumbus) and totally trustworthy John Worthing JP ( Michael Benz) lead double lives (‘Bunburying’) in order to court the desirable Gwendolyn Fairfax (Emily Barber) and Cecily Cardew, John’s ward(Imogen Doel). The two men have to face the consequences of their deceptions – and the domineering Lady Bracknell . The sets as designed by Peter McKintosh were superb . . . a cleanly elegant Act 1 for Worthing’s London house, a beautifully lit garden for Act 2 and wonderful stained glass windows and library for Act 3, the interior of the country house. And the costumes were glorious. The show’s big drawing card was Poirot star David Suchet as Lady Bracknell, the first male Lady Bracknell ever to be seen in the West End. Suchet revels in playing a very haughty and formidable Lady Bracknell, and steals every scene that he is. In Act 1 Bracknell wears a beautiful burgundy ensemble with a white lace blouse, in Act 3 she is seen in an exquisite oyster coloured ensemble. Bracknell is every inch the imperious matriarch, queering Gwendolyn with a Gorgon-like look. Her questioning of John Worthing in Act 1 is fabulous, one of the highlights of the show, and her taking over in Act 3 fluidly assured. The famous ‘a hand bag’ line was delivered with aplomb. Bracknell combines a sense of the absurdity of life with grasping calculation and snobbery. One of the main themes of Wilde’s play is that in Victorian England it was possible to buy one’s way into the aristocracy, and Lady Bracknell is not ashamed of this fact. The play also offers witty insights into a society that hides beneath a veneer of hypocritical respectability, money, morals and marriage. Emily Barber’s Gwendolen, exquisitely dressed, is developing her mother’s commanding presence. She could have emerged from a bygone age – her accent, attitude, timing and phrasing are precisely measured, and bang on. She and Cecily strike sparks off each other – there is a wonderful cat fight in Act 2 in the glorious rose garden and the reconciliation is terrific .Cecily , a young blooming English rose , with a high girly voice , is portrayed as a dreaming , rather quite modern teenager by Doel. There is instant attraction between Cecily and Algernon and they can hardly keep their hands off each other. Cecily’s restricted and insulated life is indicated in Act 3 by her shock at the discovery that she is a wealthy heiress. As flustered Jack (“Ernest”) Worthing handsome Michael Benz, well known for his role in Downtown Abbey, give a delicious, inspired performance. A regular cast member at Shakespeare’s Globe, Philip Cumbus’ Algernon is a scruffy, cynical, decadent ‘lad about town’. Algernon’s huge appetite is symbolically indicated by his voracious devouring of muffins, leading to a hilarious muffin fight with Jack. Act 2 is great fun with Jack in full mourning for his ‘bad brother’ Earnest but then Algernon turns up in disguise as Earnest. Michelle Dotrice’s Ms Prism is a firm, plainly dressed governess, who suddenly, oddly turns into a giddy, giggly simpering girl again at the appearance of Canon Chasuble, played well by Richard O’Callaghan with an Irish lilt. This was a thoroughly enjoyable production. Running time two and a half hours (approx) including two intervals. For the record - There were no making of short documentaries or behind the scenes interviews at interval. THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST screens at selected arthouse cinemas including the Palace Chauvel and the Palace Norton Street cinemas from 6th February 2016. Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)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)

Royal Opera Cav/Pag

This was amazing here's my rave for Sydney Arts Guide This Opera, filmed at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden London on the 10th December last year, was presented as part of this years Palace Opera and Ballet season. Controversial director Damiano Michieletto has come up with a gut wrenching, visually stunning and emotionally gripping production which blends these two great operas together. These two ‘verisimo’ operas were first double-billed in 1893. The opera has been reset in southern Italy in the 1980’s , the characters from one opera appearing in the other .. At the start, in Cav, we see Beppe pasting Pagliacci advertisments on the walls of Mamma Lucia’s bakery, and in the Intermezzo, Nedda first meets handsome Silvio, here depicted as a lowly baker. In Pag’s Intermezzo we see the weeping Santuzza, (who is bearing Turiddu’s child) reconciled with the devastated Mamma Lucia… In Cav we see the children rehearsing for an Easter play; in Pag they charmingly perform it. Paolo Fantin has designed different sets for each opera, but both make major use of the revolve to give us different views of the action, from the shop front to the interior of the bakery, the school hall to the untidy dressing room, from public displays of grief under a single streetlight to moments of concealed agony. Both operas emphasise the intense Catholicism of the small village– in one scene there is an Easter procession in honour of The Virgin with the statue frighteningly coming to life, pointing at Santuzza , and increasing her sense of guilt. Musically and vocally this production is magnificent. Sir Antonio Pappano,who is steeped in the culture of southern Italy, dynamically led a wonderful orchestra. The opening opera, CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA, began with Turiddu discovered dead; offstage his ghostly voice chillingly sings “O Lola ch’ai di latti la cammisa.” Statuesque Eva-Maria Westbroek as Santuzza nobly suffers and expresses great drama with her thrilling voice. Veteran mezzo Elena Zilio is tremendous as Mamma Lucia , in many ways the emotional anchor of the work. Sometimes her movements said much more than words and there was great use of close up in her encounters with Santuzza. Greek baritone Dimitri Platanias , in rousing fine , gruff form , doubles as the smarmy Alfio in Cavallleria Rusticana, and plays the rather sinister and overbearing villain Tonio in Pagliacci. Latvian tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko appears as returned soldier Turiddu in Cavallleria Rusticana and plays Canio, the leader of the troupe in Pagliacci . Antonenko sings with excellent tone and great range, especially strong in the middle register, and his controlled, menacing yet despairing Vesti la guibba sent shivers up my spine. His Un bacio, mamma! Un altro bacio! was passionate and heartfelt, – it is as if he held a premonition of his death In the middle of the love-triangle in PAGLIACCI is Carmen Giannattasio’s Nedda. Hers was a terrific performance, (featuring a lovely lyrical line and enchanting high notes). portraying a rather hard woman, nervous and edgy. Her bitter relationship with her husband Canio is distracted by her relationship with Silvio, well played by a very handsome Dionysios Sourbis. Another twist in this production sees Pagliacci’s play-within-an-opera, similar to Hamlet’s Murder of Gonzago scene, blur the barriers of real life and illusion, coming across as projections of Canio’s jealousy. Other stand-out performances were Martina Belli playing a sultry Lola, and Benjamin Hulett as Beppe. This was a powerful and complex production. Running time – 3 ½ hours (approx). The screening included one interval during which there were interviews with the cast. The Royal Opera’s presentation of Cavalleri Rusticana and Pagliacci screened at Palace cinemas between the 22nd and the 27th January 2016

Opera Australia's The Pearl Fishers my Sydney Arts Guide review This is a new production by Michael Gow and there have been some changes that make it an intriguing version. The music has been preserved as have the key plot ideas however the characters have been changed to provide them with more realistic and believable motivations. The opera is set in colonial Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) of the 1860’s. One can nitpick about aspects of this Opera- the rather hurried and sloppy libretto , and especially the dramatic structure of the plot- where most of the major events in the story happen off-stage, and the crucial turning point is at the start Act 2, which means there is not much plot development or action for the remainder of the other two acts. As well, much of the story revolves around the villagers’ Hinduism, yet Ceylon has been a mostly Buddhist nation for the last millennium. As well, the opera is set in the supposedly seaside city of Kandy, which is in reality in the centre of the island, not near the sea – but that is 19th century Romantic opera for you! Gow has worked with designer Robert Kemp in an attempt to create an authentic appearance of Ceylon, with crumbling temples and wonderful textures. It’s bright and vivid with most of the villagers wearing saris in deep oranges and yellows. Their costumes are enhanced by Matt Scott’s vividred and gold lighting. In Act 1 the set is dominated by a Hindu shrine, with the sea represented by a transparent plastic strip.Act 3 is set in Zurga’s office, a Chekhovian weather torn and dilapidated house in need of repair- the paint peeling off the walls, broken furniture huddled in the corner, some of the wooden slats damaged empty bottles lying around…Zurga’s messy desk… Gow’s work has changed the concept that this opera is a tale revolving around the conflicts of love, loyalty and piety set in a lush tropical locale. The two men in the love triangle have been altered to become European colonisers, greedily taking advantage of the villagers, sending them out on dangerous pearling expeditions while they reap the profits. Jose Carbo is a strong dramatic presence as Zurga, condescending to the island’s inhabitants, is in glorious form and baritone voice. He is the virtual king of the island, but has ‘gone troppo’, affected by the alcohol and the sun. When his supremacy is questioned by his long lost friend turned romantic rival Nadir, he goes a little mad. In Act 3 the first scene is almost entirely about Zurga’s inner conflict. The famous ‘Au fond du temple saint’ duet, sweepingly lyrical, that Jose Carbo sang with Pavol Breslik as Nadir in Act 1 was delivered beautifully and had the audience deeply moved with its exquisite beauty. Slovakian tenor Pavol Breslik portrays Nadir as a game hunter. Note the leopard/tiger skins in Act 1 and the deer heads in Act 3. Byronically handsome Breslik sings passionately and impressively, full of hypnotic lyricism. In Je crois entendre encore, the fiendishly difficult yet ravishing aria, his voice goes, at times, down to a melting whisper. Both men are in love with their vision of the exotic Leila. Léïla becomes an intriguing character in her travels from adored remote Woman to a real person. Nadir’s awkward eruption into and confession in the temple reminds us that it is dangerous, even lethal, for ‘outsider’ Westerners to break the religious vows and customs of others. Diva Ekaterina Siurina plays Leila and gives a dignified, warm and passionate reading of her character. Siurina’s voice has an ease and fluency with an attractive clarity and colour in every part of the range. Her character is strong, proud and true, graceful yet not cowering in any way under her many veils. Siurina handles all of Bizet’s difficult vocal runs well, revealing beautiful control and virtuoso technique. In her almost Tosca like showdown with Zurga towards the end she is transformed. She enters almost hesitantly to plead for Nadir’s life, but when she realizes Zurga’s jealousy and weakness, combined with his uncertainty, she fights back. One of the biggest changes in Gow’s production is that he turns the character of Nourabad, originally a high priest imposing severe religious law, into an uncaring exploitative, pretentiously religious European. Daniel Sumegi as Nourabad gave his character an edgy, brutish and forceful opportunism and sang with impressive firmness in his wonderful, resonant bass. Musically this was a sumptuous, superb production with the dynamic Guillaume Tourniaire thrillingly leading the Orchestra and the Opera Australia chorus in great voice. Running time 2 hours 30 minutes including one interval. Go on, treat yourself. Opera Australia’s fresh production of Bizet’s THE PEARLFISHERS is playing in rep various dates between January 15 and March 12 at the Joan Sutherland Auditorium, Sydney Opera House. Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)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)

Kenneth Branagh Company The Winter's Tale

This was wonderful ! My Sydney Arts Guide review : This is the opening production of a year long season at the Garrick Theatre in London by Sir Kenneth Branagh’s new company and it is off to a splendid start with this magnificent production which has just completed its sold out season. The production opens with the tinkling of a music box. At first it all seems quite a traditional Victorian era Christmas, with the court full of festive cheer, carols and snowflakes and where they all watch a black and white, rather grainy boyhood home movie of the king of Sicily, Leontes, and his best friend Polixenes King of Bohemia. (The home movie reminded me of footage of the ill- fated Romanovs , and young Maxmillius (Pierre Atri) wears a sailor suit like Tsarevitch Alexei). The costumes are roughly indicative of the late-Victorian, early-Edwardian era. The lighting by Neil Austin is magnificent. There is a dark, Dickensian, hidden underside to this comparatively speaking traditional production of the play. Suddenly everything becomes extremely real, dark and definitely not romantic, as Leontes (Branagh), somehow , Othello like, gets the wrong idea that his innocent wife Hermione and Polixenes have been having an affair. In this version, however, there are hints of homoerotic desire – that Branagh’s extremely impressive Leontes is driven less by insane jealousy over his wife’s possible adultery than by the possible loss of Polixenes’s presence and love. Sir Kenneth Branagh as Leontes is tremendous. His febrils suspicion erupts ( ‘too hot , too hot “ ) in a starkly, dramatically lit monologue .His breathing quickens , his eyes blaze. He can’t be moved from his mad obsession. Leontes won’t listen, and he becomes a man obsessed, fueled by demons. His madness starts quietly, talking to himself, charmingly talking to his son then suddenly jumping to obsession again and then his madness rages. Branagh in this tremendous performance embraces the chaos within his role. Dame Judi Dench regally endows Paulina with wisdom and compassion. She makes her character a kind of female Prospero , a sort of a mistress of ceremonies, strong, firm, articulate and able to work ‘magic’. Paulina is at her most tender when displaying new born Perdita to Leontes , hoping that this might soften him. Her compassion is combined with her truth telling defiance. In some ways she is the real power behind the throne in Sicily. Dench also doubles as the character, Time. Michael Pennington is wonderful as loyal, torn, unfortunate Antigonus , Paulina’s husband , ‘pursued by a bear’. John Shrapnel subtly plays his character, a trustworthy man who falls foul from the fickle politics around him. Beautiful, elegant Miranda Raison is splendid as the gracious, troubled and, wronged Queen Hermione. She is both coldly formal,regal and blazing. Hermione is charming and pleasant in the opening scene yet she glacially controls her anger when she is later falsely accused of wrong doing. She speaks of her “honour , graciousness and dignity.” In this version the rustic scenes in Bohemia are played as an European fertility rite where the male shepherds strip as they dance. The dancing to accordion, drum and squeeze-box is bold and exuberant In Bohemia Jessie Buckley is delightful as grown up Perdita , who sees herself as a shepherdess- a free spirit- yet ‘carries’ a bit of Ophelia in her, especially in the scene where she hands out flowers to her friends and acts as hostess/Queen of the shearing. This scene features wonderful, celebratory lighting for the sunset scene). Errol Flynn look alike, the dashing Tom Bateman is great as Prince Florizel , enchanted by his flame Perdita and willing to give up everything for love. John Dagleish is a nimble-fingered, tall , shrewdly conning Fagin-like Autolycus, who also has a touch of the Irish blarney about him. Back in the court of Sicily we meet Leontes , now an aged, sombre figure, with the palace like marble ice and snow melting on to his coat. The recognition and reconciliation scene with the ‘statue’ of Hermoine displayed in a kiosk box , all organised by Paulina’s ‘magic’, is magnificently played out. Very poignantly performed with its evocative cycle of lost and found, this is a magical production – a fractured fairytale that redeems itself. Running time- 2 hours and 40 minutes. Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company’s production of the Bard’s THE WINTER’S TALE, co-directed by Rob Ashford and Branagh, screens at selected arthouse cinemas between January 29 and February 4. Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)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)

Vortex Temporum

here's what I said for Dance Informa VORTEX TEMPORUM BY ROSAS CARRIAGEWORKS JANUARY 2016 Austere, ‘Minimalist’ and quite severe, this production, combining both the marvellous dancers of Rosas and the musicians of Ictus, both companies from Belgium, is for serious contemporary classical music and dance fans. It is part of the Sydney Festival . There is no emotion from the performers, just intense attention to the rigorously intellectual music and dance they present. There’s no set as such, just the black walls of the large Bay 17 of Carriageworks. A piano is visible and swirling, circular markings on the floor. The performers are in black costumes . The opening segment features the musicians – piano, flute, clarinet violin, viola and cello . Gerard Grisey’s striking music is sculptured, many layered and atonal. It is very complex and intricately structured, like De Keersmaeker’s choreography , which is melded with it, commenting on and at times mirroring/echoing it. The musicians stand and move around in precisely organised patterns but don’t dance. The piano however is dizzyingly shifted and circled around while Jean-Luc Plouvier the pianist continues to play and one of the dancers interacts with him. (The piano actually requires two dancers , representing the pianist's two hands.) Eventually the extraordinary dancers join them and gradually we observe that a dancer and musician are paired , so to speak . The dancers have an amazing soft, yet fiery line ,are fluid yet extremely controlled. When the dancers and musicians combine , the complicated rhythm and development of movement and music grows then ebbs then grows again. The eponymous ‘Vortex “ of Grisey’s work is the tempestuous centre of the spiralling dance and music. De Keersmaeker's vivid , precisely and delicately constructed choreography links all the performers yet is also individual . At times there is use of repetition , some in unison , sometimes gently staggered so that the phrase ripples through the group .At other points the dancers are like moving sculptural lines in space , fractured suddenly by explosive feline jumps or some everyday movements , backward walks , runs ,lunges , slithery squeaky rolling floorwork and held angular poses. For one segment there is a blistering male dance solo of swirls , drags , leaps and shuffles – everyone else has left the stage. Eventually his colleagues return and dance and music are reunited. We gradually come to observe that de Keersmaeker’s precise, intense choreography is revealed to be a 3-D expression of the structured geometry of the music. This work is about time.. in a straight line (or not), between past present and future ..being conscious of time in continual flux and transition from anticipation to memory, past becoming the future , future becoming past .. In the final section the atmospheric lighting glooms and softly dims, as the dancers pivot and run , eventually fading away and the music gradually drops to a whisper , then silence . The light that remains on the conductor’s hand and stand is mesmerizing and compelling – all is still and silent - then finis. Running time an hour Part of the Sydney Festival, Vortex Temporum ran at Carriageworks 15-18 January 2016 Choreography Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker Created with and danced by Bostjan Antoncic, Carlos Garbin, Marie Goudot, Cynthia Loemij, Julien Monty , Michael Pomero , Igor Shysko Musical director Georges-Elie Octors Musicans – Jean-Luc Plouvier , Chryssi Dimitriou , Dirk Descheemaker, Igor Semenoff, Jeroen Robbrecht , Geert De Bievre

The Rabbits

This was fabulous! here's my Sydney Arts Guide review This major highlight of the 2016 Sydney Festival is a must see. Based on the acclaimed picture book by John Marsden and Shaun Tan, and the winner of several Helpmann Awards, THE RABBITS, adapted and directed by John Sheedy with score by Kate Miller-Hendke and libretto by Lally Katz, is a combined production between Opera Australia and Barking Gecko Theatre Company. There are no exact references in the book to time and place, but the visual cues give the game away, with the play clearly set in Australia. THE RABBITS tells a parable of out of control colonisation seen through the eyes of the Indigenous population, the Marsupials, and the disastrous impact of the Rabbits- the colonising British. There were some stand-out scenes in including a disturbing ensemble number where the Rabbits get the Marsupials drunk, and a sombre march sequence where the Rabbits begin by destroying the landscape and end by abducting the children… Composer and performer Kate Miller-Heidke in collaboration with Iain Grandage has devised a score that blends late 20th-century classical music with many other musical strands and influences, including interesting percussive effects and music ranging from music hall to electronic. The small band on stage was excellent and interacted, at one point, with the rest of the cast. Gabriela Tylesova’s design was stunning, featuring a curved tower of Babel like centrepiece, in burnt ochre, representing the Marsupials home. The Marsupials wore orange- brown padded and striped costumes, in warm, earthy tones and with striped face paint. Of the five tremendous Marsupials, the three women– Hollie Andrew, Jessica Hitchcock and Lisa Maza – were strongest, with their heart rending rendition of Kitesong, mourning the loss of their children, which reflects the pain of then Stolen Generation- “Kitesong / Born of me / Now borne on the wind / Eternally”- as the tiny marsupial children in kites drift away… The designs for the invading Rabbits were marvellous. Their huge, rather awkward costumes made them look like a cross between evil rodents ( think Nutcracker) and bulging, overweight pelicans. The rabbits were encrusted with eccentric and colourful attention to detail such as the cogs on the Captain’s hat. Interesting use, at one point, is made of the light from underneath in the ‘throats’ of their costumes. Above the action is perched Miller-Heidke’s somewhat baroque looking Bird, in fluffy white and wearing an amazing wig, who acts as the show’s narrator and observer, replete with vocal thrills. The Bird remains rather aloof and detached from events until it becomes clear that she is also affected by the many changes taking place across the land. Oracle like, she issues dire predictions and warnings yet also insists on her inability to assist the Marsupials as the marauding Rabbits invade. Amongst the Rabbits songs, Kanen Breen’s sinister Scientist, sung in falsetto, is very impressive and scene stealing. His first appearance sees him pedalling a tricycle and collecting geckos with his giant tweezers and then depositing them in a jar. Robert Mitchell as an elegantly jacketed Gilbert and Sullivan like Captain, and Nicholas Jones as an effete ‘society’ Rabbit were also stand-outs. Kanen Breen’s sinister Scientist, sung in falsetto, is impressive and scene stealing. His first appearance sees him pedaling a tricycle and collecting geckos with his giant tweezers and then depositing them in a jar. THE RABBITS asks important questions- Is reconciliation possible? Can a common voice and understanding be found? Robert Mitchell as an elegantly jacketed, Gilbert and Sullivan like Captain, and Nicholas Jones as an effete ‘society’ Rabbit were also impressive, as were the ensemble in general. THE RABBITS asks important questions- Is reconciliation possible? Can a common voice and understanding be found? This was an enthralling and confronting production. Running time – just over an hour no interval. Opera Australia and Barking Gecko’s production of THE RABBITS, part of the Sydney Festival, is playing the Roslyn Packer Theatre until the 24th January.

Cut The Sky

Here's my Sydney Arts Guide review Broome-based theatre/dance company Marrugeku has brought this thought provoking, challenging and disturbing production to Sydney as part of the Sydney Festival. The show premiered last year as part of the Perth Festival. CUT THE SKY presents its concept from an Indigenous perspective, expressed via the poems of Edwin Lee Mulligan and its focus on the 1979 Noonkanbah protests, when the US company AMAX, escorted by hundreds of police, forced its way through Yungngora community pickets to drill for oil on sacred land. The piece also includes Bill Grayden’s annoying, patronising speech to the local indigenous people, the effect of which was devastating. The show blends contemporary dance, theatre, music, indigenous storytelling, singing, and video installation in a shattering production that is divided into five sections. It starts, like The Tempest, in the middle of a storm. Jumping forward and back in time, it covers conflict with mining companies, flora and fauna destruction and abnegation of the marginalised, the perfidy of a government and state system that demands that its subjects trust it, whilst at the same time betraying them. The black, textured set is relatively bare apart from a huge gas pipeline heavily rearing up from the floor of the stage. Towards the back is hung a huge length of fabric which also acts as a projection screen. The cast in their assorted clothes, at times reinforcing the poverty, with torn plastic bag like costumes, are sometimes almost hidden from view either side of the stage until they emerge to continue the action. There are original songs from soul singer Ngaiire and indigenous songs as well as covers from Nick Cave and Buffalo Springfield, sung live with thrilling effect by Ngaire Pigram wearing a lime green corset and high platform boots. Pigram, in an enveloping blue plastic cloak, represents something akin to a spirit of the land. Most of the creative team originally comes from Belgium, with associates of Belgium’s Les Ballet C de la B credited as core creators. As well as Marrugeku’s Rachel Swain (concept and direction) and Dalisa Pigram (concept and choreography), there is choreography from Serge Aimé Coulibaly and dramaturgy by Hildegard de Vuyst. The influences are many….there is a Lucy Gearin influence, at times a Rafael Bonachela influence, and some traditional indigenous dance phrases, still the predominant stylistic influence and inprint is Les Ballet C de la B, with the dancers giving superb performances featuring incredibly powerful yet lethally soft rolls, turns, ‘neurotic twitches’ and slithery floorwork, all full of explosive energy. Nyikina-Walmajarri artist, poet and storyteller Edwin Lee Mulligan is essentially the main spokesperson of the cast of six. He articulates an Aboriginal perspective about the relationship of people to the land, set against a backdrop of video footage that depicts scenes such as the hostile beauty of the desert, devastation wrought by natural disasters, the extraordinary hostile beauty of the desert, large termite mounds, and the physical impact of open-cut mining on the environment. He delivers his warning in gentle, earthy tones. Co-choreographer and Marrugeku co-director, Pigram had a major role too delivering one astonishing monologue. A pocket dynamo encased in a miner’s safety harness, she also comes to represent mining machinery cogs, that disjointedly yet repeatedly slide and slip though each other. In a separate dynamic monologue highlight, Miranda Wheen, wearing a bio-hazard suit whilst whispering/chanting scientific warnings, under her breath, and leaping around the stage with explosive energy. Her hissing like sounding breath and the soft rustle of her suit made her performance quite ominous and sinister. This was a bleak, challenging and confronting production that is likely to lead to much discussion afterwards. Running time 70 mins without interval. Marrugeku Theatre Company’s production of CUT THE SKY played the Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House between the 14th and 17th January.