Same Same

Same Same No Strings AttachedNo Strings Attached Theatre of Disability & Diverse Abilities Dance Collective, DADC (Singapore). Adelaide Festival Centre. 13 Nov 2020

 

There’s live performance and there’s live Zoom performance. No Strings and DADC have just pulled off both in an absolutely delightful international coup. Each company had a live performance group in situ, one in Singapore and one in Adelaide. But they merged as one interactive body via a Zoom collaboration. 

 

Here in Adelaide, a live audience gathered covid-style in the Festival Centre’s Quartet Bar with the No Strings performers sitting beneath the giant screen whereupon they were joined by the Singapore performers. The theme of the event, apart from being a ground-breaking piece of new-tech international theatre, was an exploration of how performers with disability in two worlds have been coping with covid-19. 

The show’s title is the answer. Same Same. Everyone, no matter where, has been going through the same weird and worrying experience of pandemic life.

 

The show’s creative director and host, Jeffrey Tan, interviewed the diversity of performers one by one, establishing their differences. They have different abilities, different interests, different family groupings, different cultures, even different colour preferences. But they all share new living conditions, particularly the hand-washing rituals. And there were 20 characters on the big Zoom grid, all miming hand-washing at once; quite an artwork if one looks at sheer aesthetics. But it was saying much more.

 

Tan and Adelaide’s Emma Beech liaise and direct from their venues, Beech guiding the likes of Zoe to perform a lithe, hair-flicking dance of liberation while Tan offers Jasprin in a bright red dress doing something of a lively Bollywood routine. At the end of the show, the Singapore crew is shown as a dance group while in Adelaide, performers swayed in harmony. 

 

Tan has an exceptionally agreeable voice and demeanour. He is utterly inclusive and everyone shows loving patience with those who need a moment longer to get their words out. By the end of the Zoom hour, the strengths, skills, and characters of all the performers have been elicited and an extremely pleasing spirit of conviviality has presided.

And one feels one has come to know a bunch of interesting people from near and afar.

 

Tan said he devised this performance concept while brooding on the limitations that covid had inflicted on the theatre world. Partnering with No Strings’ Emma Beech brought forth the support of Arts South Australia and the Adelaide Festival Centre and, at his end, Maya Dance Theatre, the Singapore International Foundation, and Singapore Repertory Theatre. Also melded were the professional peers, Subastian Tan over there and Michaela Cantwell here. The whole endeavour grew in substance, strength, and authority; all of which showed when it came to the first of four public performances. 

 

Sightlines in the Quartet Bar are nothing to write home about. Even in covid chequerboard configuration, sitting at the back of a large, flat room, one can’t see the protagonists at the front except via the Zoom screens. So there is a little bit of loss of involvement. Those at the front, however, joined in with the warm-up exercises and there was lots of arm waving. So, it speaks well of the spirit of the production and the hosting of Tan and Beech that such a warm sense of covid-era kinship is communicated.

 

This is a brave and beautiful use of the tools of the moment with a very positive and beautiful outcome.

 

Three cheers.

 

Samela Harris

 

When: 13 and 14 Nov

Where: Adelaide Festival Centre, Quarter Bar

Bookings: Closed

The Odd Couple

The Odd Couple MBM 2020Matt Byrne Media. Holden Street Theatres. 6 Nov 2020

 

What a tonic.

Matt Byrne is giving us just what we need after the fraught, homebody months - a fraught, homebody belly laugh.

 

The Odd Couple is an oldie but, what a goodie it turns out to be under the skills of Byrne and David Grybowski in the roles of Oscar and Felix, the world’s most gloriously ill-suited house mates. These are the roles memorably forged by Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in the 60s movie and Jack Klugman with Tony Randall on TV. They are hard acts to follow. Then again, the sports writer slob and the domestic-diva news writer have a certain classic comedic substance especially as written by the great Neil Simon. And as Byrne and Grybowski prove, they can be carried off by a couple of capable character actors, even, as in this case, actors decidedly older than the characters they are playing. 

 

In other words, this odd couple carries the show very well indeed and, as always seems the case in MBM shows, they are surrounded by fine support actors.

 

This is not to say one does not have to be forgiving at times. The American accents are a bit uneven and some of the lines get a bit botched, but the show rolls on in such good spirit that one can’t help just going with it for the laughs. 

 

The New York poker-playing buddies are depicted by seasoned players gleaned from assorted amateur theatre companies around the town. They are very nicely cast with Timothy Cousins giving endearing embodiment to the food-loving cop, Murray, and Russel Ford, colourful as the other hungry player, Vinnie. Gavin Cianci has sleek mobster magic as the cigar smoking Speed and, as ever, Frank Cwiertniak, playing Roy, is a pleasure to see on stage. Their banter and generally anarchically blokey pack behaviour makes a strong contextual backdrop to the unholy domestic partnership of Oscar and Felix. 

 

Of course, it is a period piece. There’s a pesky home telephone on the other side of the room and lots of not terribly PC backchat about wives and divorce. Then again, when it comes to Oscar and Felix, it is a satirical study of myriad universal facets of domestic behaviour and expectations. One suspends disbelief and laughs. 

 

Byrne plays Oscar with strident voice and as many Matthau moments as he can rally. Grybowski grows and grows into the skin of Felix, a complex character, big-hearted and irritating, a man with the thickest of  thin skins, or is it the thinnest of thick skins? Ironically, while the play is redemptive for slobby Oscar, perchance Felix is doomed to OCD peskiness for ever.

 

Bec Mason and Lauren Weber fill out the cast as the two giggly Pigeon sisters from upstairs. They are English girls, both secretaries, living in New York and looking for fun. Wigs maketh their stereotypes and the actresses play the parts for laughs, and get them.

 

Co-directing with Byrne. Rose Vallen has tapped into the comic quirks of the characters and added the Vallen choreographic touch to some of the chaos scenes and, one notes, the occasional skip in the step of grouchy Oscar.

 

The show ticks along very efficiently with a diligent production and tech crew right on the ball, and the set is one of the best this critic has seen on The Studio stage at Holden Street. It is an expansive wall-to-wall design with windows looking over an illuminated NYC skyline. Its scale gives an impressive sense of space to the theatre which, at the same time, allows for a benign sense of intimacy. Win win.

 

Of course, there is no intimacy in the seating, It is all covid-chequerboard. Audience members sign covid-tracking sheets and have their temps taken upon entry and, in the cashless bar, they queue with impeccable social distancing. It is the new way of the world and, to make up for the lower numbers, the performance season of this most amusing production runs right to the end of the month.

 

There’s lots of time to gin up and enjoy the tonic.

 

It’s a much-needed laugh.

 

Samela Harris

 

When: 6 to 28 Nov

Where: Holden Street Theatres

Bookings: holdenstreettheatres.com

A Promenade of Shorts

A Promenade of Shorts Red Phoenix 2020Red Phoenix Theatre and Holden Street Theatres. 22 Oct 2020.

 

How to get a full audience when faced with covid live theatre restrictions, you ask?

Take one small covid-quantity audience and then multiply it by three in three separate covid-safe performance spaces complete with three separate covid-safe bars. Ta-da! Financially viable and epically ingenious.

 

Clever Red Phoenix.  Holden Street Theatre’s resident company ever was a savvy outfit and Holden Street Theatres just happens to have the requisite separate performance spaces along with lots of glorious open air.

 

So Michael Eustice and Libby Drake devised a mini festival of short plays around which audiences could safely be rotated. And, because covid-safe requires that venues be cleaned between performances, they assembled some off-the-wall amusements to keep the audiences properly corralled and entertained between entertainments, to whit, “tour guides”: Jean Walker as fierce school ma’m with devilishly long ruler; Nicole Rutty with a tray of diversions; Michael Eustice in adorable Goldfish Suit; and the living legend Wayne Anthoney with his repertoire of magic tricks and a very handsome marionette.

 

Then, there are the soapbox orators who later take to the stage inside the Box Bar theatre in the very arresting Words That Matter performance: Sharon Malujlo doing the Julia Gillard Misogyny speech artfully with that awful flat timbre and drawling ’strine vowels; Anthony Vawser delivering well, Robert Kennedy’s 1968 speech on the death of Martin Luther King; and Stephen Tongun presenting Martin Luther King’s I’ve got a Dream speech which is, in itself, worth the price of the show.

 

The audiences are ticketed with colour-coded stickers for this evening of multiple mini-plays and herded thus in socially-distanced groups of 20.

The short plays are pretty much hit and miss. In all, the evening is like an elaborate revue, albeit most of the pieces are on the serious side. Only one, Auto Incorrect, written by Bridgette Dutta Portman and directed by Libby Drake, is rib-cracker funny. Tim Williams shows some lovely comic timing.

 

Director Brant Eustice has elicited a certain ingenuous charm from Driving Mr Diddy written by Mandy Bannon. Certainly performers Brian Godfrey, Joanne St Clair, and Nick Fagen achieve a quirky interaction as the criminal and the accidental getaway drivers.

 

There is something for everyone to love to loathe in the odd array of wee plays. With lots of bars and lots of breaks, not to mention the joy of coming back after a long hiatus from living theatre, the thirsty audiences seem highly responsive and, in some cases, keen to be part of the action. 

 

There’s some delicious character work by actors, Kate van der Horst notably in Intermission and Ruby Faith in The Book of Leviticus Show. John Rosen, Kyn Wilson, Petra Schulenberg, Kyla Booth, and Tom Tassmon also, but in this cast of thousands, too many to name.

 

The main thing about the production is that it is.

It is chutzpah and defiant good spirit in the face of a pandemic. 

It is a welcome night out with friends. It is actors, techs, directors and venues back at work. It is imagination and initiative.

 

It is Red Phoenix rising once again.

 

Samela Harris

 

When: 22 to 31 Oct

Where: Holden Street Theatres

Bookings: holdenstreettheatres.com

Moana Junior

Moana Junior 2020Adelaide Theatre Academy. Goodwood Institute Hall. Sea Cast. 7 Oct 2020

 

For this generation, there’s been an uplift in the number of strong independent role models for young girls and women. To be fair, most of them are fictional and animated, but at least they’re there! Brave featured Merida who refused to be married off, Mulan followed her warrior heart (albeit having to disguise herself as a man) and the sisters of Frozen were an inspiration to legions of young girls.

The story of Moana is of this ilk, with the young daughter of the chieftain setting off on her own path, and eventually saving her people and their island home.

 

The students of the Adelaide Theatre Academy (Theatre Bugs) do themselves proud with this stage adaptation. There’s a bit of an issue with sound production which shows up early with a slightly muffled narration but otherwise all goes smoothly for these young actors.

 

With two productions a day, there are two full casts alternating; by the standard displayed by the ‘Sea Cast’, one assumes the ‘Land Cast’ performances are equally captivating. The triple threats are well evidenced with a number of cast members displaying outstanding singing, dancing and acting skills.

 

This production allows individual cast members to shine, but not at the expense of the ensemble, with many members taking turns at main character roles before melding back into the polished chorus. Some very well timed comedy provides good laughs for the audience.

 

The set is simple, with minimal use of props, but the production is so alive and so well paced that the characters themselves are all that is required. As Moana (Maddie Nunn) journeys across the seas in her wooden canoe, well placed lighting by Ben Francis conveys moods and scenes, as does his equally subtle soundscape. Costumes are simple, with coloured T-shirts defining human characters as well as land and sea (characters in their own right) and a fabulous Tamatoa (the crab), complete with Left Claw and Right Claw!

 

While there are some wonderful individual singing performances, it is the ensemble work that really stands out, with strong vocal harmonies and rollicking dance moves. Most memorable however, is the sheer enjoyment on the faces of the cast, smiling fit to burst!

The nine year old companion, who loves the Disney animation, proclaimed this production “fabulous!”. Quite right.

 

Arna Eyers-White

 

When: 7 to 10 Oct

Where: Goodwood Institute Hall

Bookings: trybooking.com

Gaslight

Gaslight State Theatre Company 2020

State Theatre Company. Her Majesty’s Theatre. 8 Sep 2020

 

There's a delicious, loving buzz surrounding our new Her Majesty’s as she opens her doors for live performance, the spacious new auditorium now in Covid mode with audiences strictly allocated to alternative seats only. Interestingly, on their first experience, the people seemed to love this restriction and yearn for its permanency; not an expected outcome.

 

In lieu of the deferred glittering song-and-dance, new-theatre, razzle-dazzle opening, Her Majesty’s is staging a serious play, and a classic proscenium-period theatre production to boot.

 

It is an extremely tall logistical order for director Catherine Fitzgerald, the State Theatre team, and the Festival Centre administration.

 

But, Adelaide’s theatre people have shown themselves to be glad, simply glad, to have a show at last and they trust in the pre-planned season choices of State Theatre.

 

By serendipity, this Patrick Hamilton play provides a nod to Her Majesty’s vaudevillian past, there being references to London theatre of the day and actresses out of work.

Fitzgerald has embraced these links absolutely beautifully, bookending the play quite literally with some artful period shtick.

 

Gaslight is a Victorian psychological thriller, the tale of a hapless young wife whose sinister spouse cajoles and bullies her into thinking she is going mad. It is a play with arguably the best ending in the world, especially as manifested in this production.

 

For this extra special presentation on this huge new stage, there is a lush and towering set. It is in hues of green and brown with an affluent clutter of art and family possessions, including, one notes, peacock feathers for good luck in the theatre. The principal character, Bella Manningham, wears a prepossessing deep blue and black heavy Victorian bustled frock designed, as is the set, by Alisa Paterson. If there is any fault in the set design, it is that it is so comfortable-looking that one wouldn’t mind moving in.

 

Nic Mollison’s lighting is a particular triumph. There are sconces of gas lights all around the room and they play their own vital role, not only in day-and-night interior illuminations but in being an eerie part of the plot. 

 

Perhaps because of the scale of the new Her Maj, all the cast members wear microphones, perhaps a less perfect enhancement to the production and one wonders how essential.

 

Fitzgerald has taken the giant step of blind casting, having Eileen Darley playing the part of the male detective, Inspector Rough.  Always a fine actress, Darley seems to have come to a peak of splendid in her skills.  She devours the role, adding, as the director intended, the undercurrent idea of women’s roles in supporting women who silently suffer domestic violence.  Darley looks wonderful in the layers of male attire, partly comical and party heroic, Indeed, the streaks of comedy through the play are welcome because the plot has one gritting one’s teeth with resentful fury, such a devious creep of patriarchal arrogance is the dominant character, Jack Manningham.

 

As one would expect, the lead performances by Ksenja Logos as Bella and Nathan O’Keefe as Jack are highly groomed and attuned, Logos desperately pitiable in her growing confusion and O’Keefe slimy and cruel in his psychological manipulations. They are well supported by Katherine Sortini and Ellen Freeman’s engaging characterisations as the two house servants. They offer light and dark embellishment to the conspiratorial prison of the Manningham marriage.

 

The Andrew Howard soundscape is subtle and apt for this production although there are periods when the play’s muted vocal tones and soothing hues set the mind wandering.

Gaslight is a long, wordy, old-school piece of very trad theatre. It is whence the term “gaslighting” emerged as a definition of making another person fear for their sanity. In this context, it has contemporary currency since there is Donald Trump out there making us all feel as if our world axis has skewed. 

 

So, it comes to pass that happenstance has happened and that this first chapter of the new Her Majesty’s history is a fascinating story in its own right. 

 

Here’s to the next many and varied chapters.

 

Samela Harris

 

When: 4 to 19 Sep

Where: Her Majesty’s Theatre

Bookings: bass.net.au

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