True West

True West Bakehouse Theatre 2021Bakehouse Theatre. 17 Jul 2021

 

Out of the cold, wet night and into the convivial warmth and excellence of the Bakehouse. And we are to receive yet another wonderful, riveting production as, with our tears, we count down to the demise of this beloved and significant venue.

 

The intimacy of the auditorium and the commitment of the actors makes this Sam Shepard classic just a bit daunting. There is a sense that the vengeful mania of big brother Lee is only just under control, and he is just metres away. Actor Marko Siklich is a big man and, inhabited by the hair-trigger psychopathology of Lee’s character, he is really rather frightening. Designer Hayley Green has placed the action right at the audience’s knees in a skeletal house frame. Beyond is a view of vast symbolic desert whence Lee is purported to have come to visit his screenwriter brother who is housesitting while their mother is in Alaska. Lee is a hustler and petty thief who brings with him a complex sibling agenda and, between downing beers and crushing the cans, he usurps brother Austin’s relationship with his Hollywood agent and a battle of territorial imperative ensues, climaxing in one of the greatest bizarre theatre scenes ever to involve toasters. Amid the sturm und drang of the terrible sibling showdown there is humour and also a knife-edge sense of veracity. Family life can be a dangerous place.

 

Director Caroline Mignone seems to have taken the play right under its own skin. It is a remarkably tense and vivid production with superb performances, including her own as the poor, hapless mother.

 

Marko Siklich’s fearsomely robust portrayal is exquisitely counterpointed by Robbie Greenwell who delivers brother Austin's evolution from confident, disciplined writer to its very antithesis. It is a potent emotional transition, very well executed. Rick Mills completes the cast with eminent competence as the self-serving Hollywood agent and, without falter, all actors sustain impeccable American accents.

 

Stephen Dean maintains his track record as a leading lighting designer in this work which, indeed, has been a work of talented devotion from all. The play is officially presented by the two principal actors and, as such, is an impressively professional enterprise with the power of a Flinders Drama alumni background. And, not to be reiterative but, dammit, it serves to emphasise what Adelaide’s theatre community will be losing without the Bakehouse.

 

Samela Harris

 

When: 14 to 17 Jul

Where: Bakehouse Theatre

Bookings: Closed

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

The Lion The Witch The Wardrobe Tea Tree Players Youth 2021Tea Tree Players Theatre Youth. Tilley Recreation Park. 15 Jul 2021

 

A chilly, rainswept Adelaide night was the perfect occasion to see C.S. Lewis’ enduring tale of four children’s adventures in the snow covered world of Narnia. Oddly enough, the idea that a child can go into an old wardrobe and come out the other side into a parallel universe is still quite an acceptable concept, and that can only be a good thing!

 

The story follows the four Pevensie siblings who have been sent to the countryside for safety during the blitz (WW2). The costuming reflects this era - floral frocks and loose fitting slacks – but there is little reference otherwise. Having wandered through the aforementioned wardrobe into Narnia, Lucy (Gaby Taylor), Peter (Matthew Visciglio), Susan (Ashlee Brown) and Edmund (Zack Brittan) find themselves at the centre of a hostile takeover of Narnia. It has been prophesied that ‘two daughters of Eve and two sons of Adam’ will appear in the land, and assist the mysterious lion Aslan to destroy the evil witch queen and restore Narnia to the garden it once was. Along the way, they will experience betrayal, forgiveness, sacrifice and resurrection. If you’re sensing Christian overtones here, you’re right on track.

 

This debut by co-directors Rhi Shapcott and Kristyn Barnes, themselves graduates of the TTP Youth group, is a simple production; good old fashioned theatre without the technical tricks and geegaws over-offered these days. Painted flats, the lamppost (of course) and bits of furniture brought on and off by wood nymphs works perfectly well, if a little slow at times. The story is somewhat edited – it’s a bit hard to fit an entire book into 90 minutes or so – but the production flows effortlessly, and there’s not really a sense of anything important being omitted.

 

This is an ensemble work, and the cast are obviously supportive of each other, but some standout performances must be mentioned. Mathew Wright (at 6 feet tall, beautifully cast as the Dwarf) has a wonderful time with his role, and though he’s meant to be bad, the entire audience loves him.

 

Jimmy White as Mr Beaver brings a much nuanced performance, using expression and his body to bring his character to life, and shows a maturity in stage craft that should be nurtured.

 

Max Shapcott as the White Witch displays a maniacally effective evil laugh; equally well voiced is the sonorous Aslan (Clinton Nitschke), roaring out his anger while equally tempering his beautiful baritone for gentler delivery.

 

Makeup is one of the stars of the show. In the manner of kiddies’ face painting, the representation of animal faces is superb; beavers, fawns, wolves and unicorns, with Aslan’s lion makeup an artistic standout. Well done!

 

Particular mention must be made of the volunteers looking after front of house. COVID plans are not easy to deal with, and audiences are not easy to shepherd. In this instance, they perform brilliantly, combining efficiency with good humour; they could teach a few other organisations how to get the balance right! Congratulations all.

 

Arna Eyers-White

 

When: Until 17 Jul

Where: Tilley Recreation Park

Bookings: trybooking.com

The Bridge Of San Luis Rey

The Bridge Of San Luis Rey Brink State Theatre SA 2021World Premiere. Brink Productions. Space Theatre. 13 Jul 2021

 

Is he beautiful or is he grotesque? In his fire red lipstick and swirling Spanish gown of electric blue, Paul Capsis is a phenomenon of strange allure.

 

Highly mannered, he flicks his bewigged head from one side to another to present his magnificent profile. He is, for the moment, the haughty Perichole, greatest actress of 18th Century Peru, and she has stories to tell; stories of love and cruelty, of splendour and despair. These are the tales of those whose lives were lost to the collapse of the ancient rope bridge woven by the Incas: The Bridge Of San Luis Rey. Every time the actor enunciates the name of the bridge, it rings out like the striking of a beautiful bell.

 

This is the contemporary reimagining of the great Thornton Wilder novel which took out the 1927 Pulitzer Prize. Adapted for the stage by Phillip Kavanagh, it is a Brink production directed by Chris Drummond under the auspices of the Adelaide Guitar Festival. To that end, the festival’s artistic director Slava Grigoryan is onstage with fellow classical guitarist Manus Noble of the UK. These sublime musicians book end the narrator and illustrate the dramatic undulations of the five tales. Sometimes they are a part of them with flamenco flourish. Sometimes they are a moody musical mirror. Sometimes the beauty of their classical exposition is transcendental and the audience may just drift into its being.

 

Paul Capsis, meanwhile, is tackling one of the most challenging roles ever thrown at a performer. Since The Bridge of San Luis Rey is a book, he carries the book and for various stretches of stories, he reads from its pages. There are so many words. Oh, so many words, so complex in the separation and intertwining of the tales of the bridge’s victims. Timing is all. And the audience must concentrate.

 

Sometimes he is a clown, a pastiche character of large teeth in a huge red-rimmed mouth, mocking and hamming and taking theatricality to its stylised edge. He draws a laugh here, a chuckle there. That mouth is extraordinary. Sometimes he has prima-donna tantrums. And sometimes, he sings. The Capsis forte. Lovely, albeit the Sia Chandelier parody grates. 

 

The play is a tour de force of fabulist verbosity, sometimes seeming steeply uphill, relieved only by the strains and strums of the guitars. One is watching a performer hard at work, changing narratives and genders and costumes in a round world of brilliant blueness. The Jonathan Oxlade set is a circular dais backed by curtains which open onto projected designs and sometimes silhouettes of the performers. Spotlights shaft in from all directions and the blue night takes on many forms. It is its own work of art.

 

Indeed, it is all very Brink and Drummond in its deceptive simplicity. Three people on one small stage and one huge experience. 

 

Samela Harris

 

When: 13 to 24 Jul

Where: Space Theatre

Bookings: bass.net.au

Beautiful The Carole King Musical

Beautiful Carole King Musical Adelaide Fringe 2020David Gauci & Davine Productions. Star Theatres. 8 Jul 2021

 

If you missed seeing this remarkably memorable show in the 2020 Adelaide Fringe, you are hereby given a second chance. And if your first encounter with Carole King was through her stupendous song catalogue largely written with then-hubby Gerry Goffin, or her debut album, Tapestry, or subsequent albums - or God bless you - a live performance, your nostalgia nerves will go all a-tingly with this tribute bio-musical of King’s career from her first song-for-sale at age 16 to Tapestry.

 

Most radio listeners would not have known at the time who composed The Drifters’s Up On The Roof, or who wrote Will You Love Me Tomorrow? first sung by The Shirelles. But the secret was out with Tapestry in 1971. Tapestry’s song list carpet-bombed the Grammy Awards by winning album, record and song of the year, and King won best pop female vocal. Some say she set the liberated style for female singer-songwriters ever since.

 

In book writer Douglas McGrath’s sanitised sojourn of King’s early career, we see the 16-year-old prodigy meet the rather creepy Gerry Goffin and soon a writing team and marriage ensues. At 1650 Broadway in Donnie Kirshner’s music factory, there is tremendous pressure to write songs for the pops. Along life’s journey, King and Goffin are desperate to balance work with raising their two girls, and the challenge of Goffin’s demons. The musical is structured with a good-natured songwriting challenge with another writing team, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, and we hear their hits, like We Gotta Get Out of This Place and You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’. Including Kirshner, it’s all impossibly playful and good-natured, but maybe King really was as straight as Doris Day or Julie Andrews.

 

The only drama is Goffin, and the product of his departure from the scene is King’s solo writing and performance career. History stops with Tapestry and Carnegie Hall, so three-plus hours isn’t enough to include King’s other three marriages, two more kids, her environmental advocacy in Idaho, more albums and concert tours and tons of awards.

 

And the star of the show is…Jemma McCulloch! McCulloch interprets a complex yet ever-ebullient Carole King – feisty, determined, hard worker, yet falls into crevices of self-doubt, but only shallow crevices. Her renditions of King’s singing are heavenly. It is magical to be in the room with the first ever tentative rendition of Will You Love Me Tomorrow and marvel at McCulloch’s melodious tones and tenderness. All the more powerful when we see the song later murdered-by-style by The Shirelles. Curiously, McCulloch introduces a few moments of country twang in some songs which I’ve not detected in the real deal. So what? Bravo!!  

 

Director and producer David Gauci supports her well. Trevor Anderson is a brooding Goffin trapped with a young marriage and family with a hint of drugs. The joy in his fantasy escape performance of Up On The Roof is skillful and touching.  Maya Miller is a bubbly Weil – easy to watch with a strong voice. Joshua Kerr makes the most of his comedic lines and his strong vocals are good listening. Brendan Cooney does his best with McGrath’s underdeveloped character while Kate Anolak as Carole’s mum makes a tiny gem role sparkle with acerbic wit.

 

But it is Gauci’s assemblage of the parts that puts a rocket under all this talent. Gauci’s uses all that the deep stage of Star Theatre One has to offer and frames the action between two large LED displays that light up any background you can invent – he chooses mostly cartoonish images by vision designer Tim Bates. Musical director Peter Johns’ large and snappy band is television band-stand material. There is a dizzying amount of colour and movement and texture in Louise Watkins’ and Renee Brice’s 50s, 60s and 70s costumes and wigs, and Tim Bates’ lighting. Choreographer Shenayde Wilkinson-Sarti’s dancers are vibrant and sharp. The whole shebang is pacey and pristine, alternating between intimacy and wild ensemble.

 

Gauci, McCulloch and co. wear King’s crown gloriously. So many tunes and images are still runnin’ round my head. Bravo!

 

David Grybowski

 

When: 8 to 17 July

Where: Star Theatres

Bookings: eventfinda.com.au

Alan Cumming is Not Acting His Age

Alan Cummings Is Not Acting His Age Cabaret Festival 2021Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Festival Theatre.

 

Oh, my. Our Cabaret Festival supremo has revealed himself to a packed Festival Theatre audience before leaving town. Alan Cumming has lots of adoring fans. But, even they, one ponders, may have had cause for a rethink after his headline CabFest finale show.

 

In his quirky short-pants suit, of which he is inordinately proud, he bounces out in big white sneakers bragging about having his clothes “tailored” and sets the spirit of the show. It is pretty much a brag-fest.  Being only Wiki-familiar with his extensive career one had looked forward to finding out what the acclaim was all about. What is revealed amounts to a couple of decent songs and a lot of vanity patter.

 

Cumming’s brags about his dancing skill and an important upcoming dance show, but this song-and-dance man does not dance for us. Instead he tells us how marvellous he is and how many big name stars think he is fabulous. He is Sean Connery’s "Little Prince", you know.

 

As one who lived and worked in the media in Scotland, it is wonderful to revel in the sweet comfort of his accent. But what was he saying? That he masturbates every day and recommends everyone else does, too?

 

The script for the monologue feels as if it were something knocked up after a few too many wines up in Quarantine. It is not a winner in style or content. It is delivered with a few songs and a lot of quaint fussing with the hair.  Cumming’s says he is trying to give it balance by talking about death. His touching account of the death of his dog is the high spot of the show.

 

But it’s all just a digression from the theme of what a big star he is. Oh yes, and he has a bar in New York City just around the corner from his home. He recommends having your own bar in NYC; a great place to take one’s guests and leave them when he is tired of them. Hilarious.

 

He has had more marriages and relationships than most. Gay and straight.  So many that he can’t remember. In fact, as he so delicately puts it, so many that he has been known to have difficulty recognising those who have had Alan Cumming’s penis inside them!

Oh, my. Too much information, Mr Cumming.

One can only ponder how that sort of braggadocio would go down if the performer was female, or even straight male…

 

’Twas a strangely disappointing end to an otherwise wonderful Adelaide Cabaret Festival.

 

Samela Harris

 

When: Closed

Where: Festival Theatre

Bookings: Closed

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