Adelaide Youth Theatre. 24 Apr 2021
Wow. Just wow. From the moment the orchestra - guided by Music Directors Serena Cann and Ben Francis - strikes up the overture and Willie Wonka (Oscar Bridges) struts on to the stage twirling his cane, you know you’re in for a treat. And what a treat it is.
Roald Dahl’s much loved book is brought to life on the stage by a remarkable cast of young (and very young) actors, singers and dancers in a production that is world class. Before you can grasp the enormity of this production, a full chorus high kicks its way onto stage in full Broadway look and style. And so it continues through the show, with the ensemble delighting the audience at every turn.
A couple of tech hiccups early with missed lighting cues and a bit of muddy sound are quickly corrected, and the tech crew are off and running. Lighting Designer Jamie Rayner has nuanced this well, and Craig Williams on Lighting and Special Effects nails it with some spectacular digital back screen projections. The venue is more an auditorium than a theatre; it’s a bit cavernous for the production but in these COVID days it certainly fit the bill in terms of capacity and staggered seating. Well done.
Young Charlie Bucket lives in poverty with his parents and grandparents. Grandpa Joe tells him stories of the great days of the now closed Wonka Chocolate Factory. When Wonka announces it is re-opening with a competition which invites five lucky children on a tour, Charlie lucks out, finding enough money to buy a Wonka Bar and claiming one of the golden tickets. The other children are dispensed with one by one, with the Oompah Loompahs, Wonka’s assistants, singing about their appalling behaviour. Good, kind Charlie is the last kid standing, and inherits the factory from Wonka.
There are two casts for this show; this night the ‘Gum’ (as opposed to the ‘Candy’) cast were performing, but judging by the calibre of artist performing this night, either would be worth seeing.
Oscar Bridges is a perfectly dry witted Willie Wonka, singing and dancing his way through the production with consummate ease, dropping in the odd bon mot that thankfully went over the little one’s heads. Harrison Thomas is just delightful as the young Charlie and the two play off each other most entertainingly.
The stage is kept relatively clear (to fit in the huge all singing, all dancing ensemble!), with Charlie’s home (hovel) depicted by a loft bed with kitchen beneath, firmly set to one side of the stage. The grandparents were all set atop the bed, with some very cute flatulence humour. Grandpa Joe (Benjamin Gray) manages to shake off his age remarkably quickly, and joins in on the general hoe down with great gusto.
The gold ticket children push the caricature to the edge; the glutton Augustus (Nicholas Latella), ridiculously spoiled and Insta influencer Veruca Salt (Zahli Linke), chewing gum fiend Violet (Zoe Kerr) and mobile phone addict Mike Teavee (Shae Olsson Jones) and their parents do not disappoint, delighting the audience with their appalling behaviour.
The absolute highlights are the ensemble chorus, brilliantly costumed and choreographed by Jayden Prelc (assisted by Tayla McDougall)and just when you think it can’t get better, out come the Oompah Loompahs – just brilliant!
At two and a half hours plus on a Saturday night, it might have been touch and go for the five year old’s attention span. No problem; he was riveted to the stage from the get go (apologies to those around us, he knows the story well and his commentary was less than hushed!).
Congrats to Adelaide Youth Theatre on this very professional and entertaining production.
Where: Influencers Theatre
Boyslikeme. Holden Street Theatres. 23 Apr 2021
How many times have we critics dreamed of slipping away from a lousy show at interval?
It is utterly against protocol for a theatre reviewer and one of the rules by which I have strictly abided through half a century in reviewing theatre.
So, the first time I do it, it is to leave a show I am absolutely adoring. A brilliant production of a play with such a tightly-written and suspenseful plot that one is on tenterhooks for its resolution.
I don’t know how it ends. I could look it up but I don’t want to lose the chemistry of this stunning work at Holden Street Theatres. I must return.
However, the review should not have to be on ice. Only my poor swollen knee deserves that treatment - the knee I injured when my shoe caught on the wet night brick path as we streamed back into the theatre after interval. And, thank you all those kind audience members who helped me up and thank you venue manager, Mark, for the bag of frozen blueberries which so effectively chilled the horror of excruciating swelling as I waited in the bar for emergency transport home.
I sat there livid that I and my hapless, sympathetic companion, were missing the rest of the play.
Of all plays!
Thus do I exhort you all, get thee hence to Holden Street, safely and without delay. To walk carefully in the dark and to see this outstanding show presented in its Australian premiere by Boyslikeme. It is set in a hospital waiting room. Ironic, eh? But it depicts family and friends of a young man in a coma after an accident in New York. It describes the unravelling of levels of love and responsibility, of family secrets and, most significantly of all, of the way in which religious devotion can skewer people’s understandings of each other. So artfully written is this work by Geoffrey Nauffts that its ferocious religious debates stop short of didacticism. Instead, they are well-wrought revelations in the emotional interplay of the characters. To BE-lieve or not to BE-lieve, that is the question.
Elton John produced this work on Broadway to mixed reviews and lots of award nominations, including for three Tonys. The NY Times critic called it “the funniest heartbreaker in town”. Well put, I say. This play has all the elements, from impenetrably eccentric characters to a veritable rainbow of diverse relationships and emotional tensions, vividly acerbic intellectual credibility, and dammit, it is also a comedy. The humour is clever and very welcome.
Design by director Darrin Redgate is effective, and expedient enough for the actors to perform the scene changes as they go. Similarly, effective is the careful pace of his direction which establishes a potent sense of traction while bringing together the facets and attitudes of the characters. And thus emerges the considerable emotional range of Matt Hyde as the agnostic lover trying to dent the barriers of belief thrown up by young Luke, neatly performed by Tom Murdock during flashbacks. Luke’s divorced parents have their own conflicts ongoing and are an interesting study in clichéd Americana as presented by Brendan Cooney and Lisa Lanzi. Jason Jeffries as Luke’s friend has an elegant stage presence, a superb voice, and is a young actor to be watched. But it is Claire Sara who is stealing the show with a simply luminous, nuanced performance as the gentle “fag hag” who provides balance and glue to the fraught relationships around her. Or so it seemed to me in the first act.
Can’t wait to hobble back for the rest. Hopefully that will not be my “Next Fall”.
When: 23 Apr to 8 May
Where: Holden Street Theatres
By and with Jonathan Biggins. State Theatre Company of SA with Adina Apartments and Soft Tread Productions. Dunstan Playhouse. 20 Apr 2021
What a canny, cunning piece of theatrical Australiana. Writer and performer Jonathan Biggins developed his Paul Keating take-off as skits in the brilliant Sydney Wharf Revue which far too occasionally has made its way to Adelaide.
Now here comes his Keating, from revue vignette to fully-formed character.
Once upon a time, Paul Keating strode the political landscape, a truly interesting politician, witty and perceptive, an autodidactic polymath. Looking at that stylish man, it was hard to believe that he left school at 14. Until he told us, of course. He was never backward in coming forward,
Now he strides the stage in a very different incarnation but oh, what a tonic for the tired Australian political spirit he is as manifested by our artful satirist. Oh, how we have been needing what this man is giving us at the Dunstan Playhouse. Oh, thank you Mr Biggins for the glorious gusts of laughter, the snide snickers, the nostalgic titters, the gasps of shock, and the reassurance that once there was a fleeting streak of cultural depth in The Lodge.
In case anyone has forgotten, or was not yet born, designer Mark Thompson has reminded audiences of the world of Keating with a positively luscious office stage set, its red-ochre walls laden with gilt-framed Keating iconography, portraits of Napoleon, Cook, even a Gainsborough. And clocks, of course, European polished wood furnishing, a record player, and a white screen for an old-fashioned slide show.
Biggins embodies our former Prime Minister by adopting his stance, his head tilted slightly forward, his torso with an angular stoop. And, of course, he is a picture of upmarket formality in a classic business suit, crisp white shirt and a tie. As he evolves his characterisation, in mind’s eye the resemblance seems to grow and Biggins becomes more Keating than Keating. Except when he doesn’t. The last thing one expects of that dignified politician is that he should break into song and dance routines. But, with a burst of limelight, suddenly he’s Putting On The Ritz. Biggins is quite a mover, as it turns out. And the several musical numbers add an element of unexpected exuberance to the show. It is not to be forgotten that, while we may associate Keating with Mahler, he was a bit of a rock-and-roll entrepreneur in his early days and a zealous Tom Jones fan. Indeed, catholic were his tastes and Biggins weaves among them in an expertly crafted bio show.
Of course, he’s preaching to the choir. The audience is hungrily responsive and, oh, when he lets go at Scomo and the litany of Australian Prime Ministers who came before, the barbs of satiric wit are merciless, and wickedly apposite. It is a superbly scripted production, sometimes profane, sometimes profound, always erudite and stylish, just like Keating.
Its opening night standing ovation is almost not enough. ’Tis a joy of bloody cleverness.
When: 20 Apr to 1 May
Where: Dunstan Playhouse
STARC Productions. The Bakehouse Theatre. 16 Apr 2021
Our protagonist, Thomas Novachek, played by Marc Clement, has had an unsuccessful day auditioning lead females for his play based on a 1870 novel entitled, Venus In Furs, by Austrian Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. Interesting factoid: fellow Austrian and psychiatrist Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing applied the new term “masochism” – derived from Sacher-Masoch’s name - to the sexual anomaly “because the author Sacher-Masoch frequently made this perversion, which up to this time was quite unknown to the scientific world as such, the substratum of his writings.” Of course, Sacher-Masoch had some personal experience with the phenomena. Have I your interest yet?
There is an apocryphal story that a young and unknown Barbara Streisand came into an audition room, bumbled around and acting like an airhead, took her chewing gum out of her mouth and stuck it under the stool, sang her heart out, retrieved the gum and left. They didn’t know what hit them. The audience gets this same sensation when Stephanie Rossi creates a sassy and vivacious Wanda Jordan who bursts into Novachek’s funk for an unscheduled audition, late at night, during a thunderstorm. She is a hurricane in high heels and for a large part of the play sports more of her luxuriant natural curls than covering clothes including the eponymous fur.
Rossi, Clement and former Head of Acting at NIDA, Tony Knight, director of this little ripper are a tried and true trio of the stage – this being their eighth production together. Tony Knight is a Jedi Knight of theatre and paces the pair through an unrelenting – nearly exhausting – rocket ride of changing status and hierarchy reminiscent of Sleuth. As auditioner and auditionee sensationally read the saucy play, Novachek succumbs to his play’s goddess’s appeal and Sacher-Masoch’s kind of fun. Clement’s face as playwright Novachek light up with excitement at Rossi’s Wanda’s virtuosity and creativity with Novachek’s script, yet Novachek is curiously inoculated against her sexual charms, save his slow boil submission to her. The acting is simply marvelous – breathtaking really. Clement has his earnest Novachek but also his subconscious to reveal. Rossi’s Wanda is herself an act designed to do Novachek’s head in. American playwright (the real playwright) David Ives’s intelligent play takes the Classicist theme of goddess worship into the ambivalent world of kinky sex to examine the challenges of gender equality we face today. And Rossi, Clement and Knight did exactly that in a most graphic, provocative, salacious and entertaining way. Bravo!
PS - Knight and Rossi need to review their program bios. Knight writes that Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune was STARC’s eighth production (actually it’s Venus In Fur if you include Toyer) and Rossi says that STARC’s first production was last year (actually it was 2018).
When: 7 to 17 Apr
Where: The Bakehouse Theatre
University of Adelaide Theatre Guild. Three nights only. 16 Apr 2021
In the best of times, staged readings are wonderful fun. During the worst of times, a staged reading is positively inspirational since it gives all the joy of a wonderful play with half the rehearsal and production stress.
Thus is the Little Theatre dressed up in some colourful Russian-motif posters with lots of chairs, a table, and a crude bedroom setting on the mezzanine. Actors are clad in this and that, casual garb suggestive of their characters. They carry scripts but many of them seem to need no more than the odd glance. They are well prepared under the direction of Alexander Kirk who, most significantly with Lilia Nadyrshine, translated the five-act comedy from the Russian. While this critic has never experienced the play as a Russian speaker, the impression conveyed by this new translation is one of extreme perspicacity. The script is full of life, acerbic wit, and irony and the cast successfully imparts it for the most part. It is a huge cast, twenty or so, and some performances are uneven. Where they are good, they are wonderful. Where they are not, they are endearing. So it’s a win-win of good spirit.
The play also is known as The Government Inspector or The Inspector General and, in performance since 1836, its plot is fairly familiar. Rural township authorities go into over-the-top damage control when they believe that an inspector from the central government is in their midst to uncover their petty corruptions. They mistakenly target a nefarious visitor and the outcome is a mayhem of lies, vanities, bribery, and foolishness.
Of the swarming cast, Brian Knott is outstanding as the town governor. It’s a frenetic part but Knott’s skills and that superb voice rule the stage. Alejandra Arbe Montoya asserts a diabolically commanding presence and a good grasp of comic timing as his vain, vapid, bullying wife, while Camilla Wolf-Barry reels in the audience's sympathy with her embodiment of the wide-eyed and gullible teenage daughter. Nicholas Elborough plays the mistaken identity visitor delivering mercurial mood changes and artful dodginess. Then there are the lesser roles which produce some delicious characterisations, notably Simon Lancione and Emma O’Connell-Doherty as the busybody landowners and April Slomiany is delectably devious as the sneaky postmaster. Worthy mentions include Philip Lineton, Jack Robins, Phil Grummet, Geoff Dawes, and John Rosen.
Clearly, it is hard to harness such a large cast for a long run, but this is a lovely, spirited and highly entertaining reading and it would have been good to see a longer season.
When: 15 to 17 Apr
Where: The Little Theatre