Adelaide Cabaret Festoval. Space Theatre. 11 Jun 2022
Turning back the clock to the good-old, bad-old days which were just like these days.
The 1930s had been an era post- plague, featuring the Great Depression and the rise of Naziism.
So, in a perchance sleazy night club, not very co-incidentally named the "Corona Club", the entertainers entertain in what seems to be a romantic reunion.
The entertainers are embodied by the fabulous Phil Scott with Catherine Alcorn, who makes up for Phil’s sleek pate with a couple of wild wigs and even a striking Statue of Liberty spiked tiara. Not that the American Speakeasy theme oppressed. It was set in Kings Cross with lots of references to Queanbeyan.
The patter between the two entertainers is a litany of groan jokes, not the fierce wit one expects of Scott, but a very different theme. One could barely expect two sentimental old has-beens to be on the current topical zeitgeist. That is not this show.
The big drama here is the expectation of a police raid for illicit drinking. It’s the 1930s, don’t forget.
Alcorn does some physical comedic shtick, downing the champers and falling off the chaise. She belts out big numbers and works the front row for a bit of audience participation.
Scott, meanwhile, does his peerless twinkle-fingers on the piano in both serious and amusing contexts.
And it is Scott who steals the show with two mighty numbers: movingly, Brother Can You Spare a Dime; and, oh, wild cheering applause, resoundingly Fats Waller’s heavenly glorious Your Feets Too Big.
The band, set on a nice mezzanine, is a joy. Rob Chenoweth is blow-away brilliant on the trumpet, Thomas Waller natty on the drums and Oscar Peterson (yes his real name) on bass.
There was a spot of grief with the sound on Saturday night. It felt-over-amped and gave a rough edge to the timbre of the voices.
And, oh so disappointingly, the Cabaret Festival did not see fit to set The Space in cabaret configuration for this cabaret show. Why? There were just some mysteriously VIP tables right in front of the stage with the rest of the audience perched in bleacher formation.
The old days of CabFest winter champagne cheer are gone, it seems.
The bubbly is outside in the cold, if you want it.
When: 10 to 12 Jun.
Where: Space Theatre
CRAM Collective. Rumpus. 3 Jun 2022
Something Big is an intensely sophisticated piece. Anna Barnes has written a play comprising the shattered remains of what was a whole and unified friendship between three people. Thomas, Pia and Julia; absent a fourth friend, Geoff.
Thomas (Aarod Vawser), Pia (Ren Williams) and Julia (Melissa Pullinger) desperately re-enact the last time they dined together with this Geoff, sharing and commentating on this event in direct address to the audience. We are involuntary conscripts, observing some really personal stuff. Personal stuff these friends want erased from history.
Shards of memory, relationships, friendships, fears, and insecurities are played out in a powerfully effective, highly stylised form of taut, high-speed black comedy blended with a very low, yet obvious, dash of game show chutzpah.
Intertwined with this is the memory of an horrific plane crash which played a part in the problem being rebooted before our eyes.
Why do they need to? By show’s end we know. We are shocked.
Director Connor Reidy, with great finesse, produces a production spinning and swirling around the empty space in the room unseen, yet heard. The ensemble are three wickedly on point actors employing a solid dose of disciplined crazy; brave in performance.
The empty space in the room, Geoff, a bleak hole of absence the whole production spins around makes Something Big so powerful, mesmerising, hilariously dark and traumatic, thrown at (and through!) the audience via the arrow-sharp triangular thrust.
Reidy’s, granular exposition of Barnes text is powerfully aided by Tom Kitney’s lighting, sound and video design, in union with Kathryn Sproul’s subtle, apparently naturalistic, living room set. It becomes something far more other worldly and abstract overlaid with Kitney’s eerie series of projections, glass-breaking sound effects and flashing lights.
The CRAM Collective’s debut is an epic, utterly gripping and enthralling experience.
When: 2 to 12 Jun
Where: Rumpus 100 Sixth Street Bowden
Windmill Theatre Co. Dunstan Playhouse. 28 May 2022
Don’t get invested in the title of this production; the story is used as a vehicle and to be honest, bears little reference to the original fairy tale. Here the stepsisters don’t treat (Cinde)Rella like a servant, stepmother is really quite lovely, the whole family is very close and respectful of each other.
Having got that out of the way, the narrative follows the singing trio of sisters and their manager mum. The haunting opening, evoking the sirens or spirit guides of myth or legend, gives way to a full on, contemporary production, as the sisters’ audition for ‘Is This Talent’. No explanation is required for how this works (and how sad is that?); Rella (Carla Lippis), Afa (Fez Faanana) and Sika (Thomas Fonua) strut their way across the stage in a rollicking performance that wins approval from the judges. For one of them anyway. In a rather didactic fashion, the judges make clear they don’t want ‘the ugly ones’; Rella reluctantly leaves her sisters and goes to forge a career with Prince Charming Records.
The search for identity is spurred as mum (Elaine Crombie) confesses that all the children are adopted. While she is a First Nations woman, Afa and Sika are Samoan and Rella (so named after being found under an umbrella) is Italian. And so begins a fascinating journey for all, told with humour and pathos, and no small amount of soul searching. That Afa and Sika are played by drag queens plays perfectly into the Samoan culture of the Fa’afafine, Samoa’s third gender.
The cast work well together, taking up some dual minor roles, with Crombie’s turn as a club bouncer a highlight. There are moments of great comedy, accentuated by drag humour and generational jokes about the use of social media. Fairy tales get a bit mangled as the ‘mirror, mirror’ enters the fray, adding to the beauty/not beauty narrative, and the fatuity of physical vanity.
This being a premiere, the production still needs a bit of tightening, and this most shows in the focus of the message. It can be a little disjointed, and sometimes misses the target audience. It may be there are simply too many inputs into the show and it becomes a case of too many ideas. Having said that, this is a brilliant reassurance to teens of the commonality and normalising of difference in its many forms.
Faanana and Fonua are both credited as co-creators of the show, alongside Windmill’s Associate Director Sasha Zahra and playwright Tracey Rigney. Their experience as dancers comes to the fore with some very cool choreography, culminating in an outstanding Samoan dance in full costume. Chris Petridis’s lighting design reflects the hipness of the production, but it should be noted that some of the placement is very ‘in your eyes’.
As in all good tales, there is a happy ending with the distraught Rella being found again under her umbrella, and the de rigueur big finale. Much of this will go straight to the teenage heart; well done Windmill, on tackling a difficult subject in a language they can understand.
When: 28 May to 4 June
Where: Dunstan Playhouse
Recommended for ages 12+
Disney Theatre Productions. Festival Theatre. 29 May 2022
There’s no beating Disney.
Big, bold, extravagantly beautiful.
The tickets are expensive but the reward is substantial.
A theatre brimming with a wonderment of children.
One’s irritation at the disturbance of young voices in the sacred world of live performance soon fades as one overhears them gasping for explanations. "How do they do that, daddy?”
Well may they ask. There are so many moments of astounding wizardry in this big-budget production of Frozen.
Scene changes are simply breathtaking. Elsa’s shimmering ice palace is a glitter of loveliness. The light-plays of magic swirl and sparkle and when the big freeze comes, a stunned “wow” erupts in the auditorium.
Disney has resources and it does not stint.
Everything about Frozen feels big. Towering sets, fantastically giant doors and windows and ferocious icicles.
And, appropriately, the classy song and dance cast - big voices and spectacular dance routines.
One can almost feel the quality of the costumes as the skirts and frock coats swirl as the performers sway and spin.
Pleasantly, since the show is set in the cold northern European climes, the costumes are dark and strong and many of the dance routines are cleverly old school. The male dancers are big and strong. There is a lot of lifting.
And, of course, everyone looks movie-star gorgeous.
Frozen’s longevity as a Disney classic rests nicely on the theme of women’s strength and family loyalty. It is about two royal sisters, one of whom is afflicted with an uncontrollable magical power to freeze things.
To protect her little sister and others, she retreats alone into a remote royal ice eyrie and the narrative follows her little sister Anna’s ensuing quests to find her. There are goodies and baddies, powerful trolls, peasants in Tyrolean dirndls, a zany mountain family with a sauna, an heroic mountaineer with an utterly gorgeous reindeer called Sven, and of course, a talking snowman called Olaf.
Among the children in the audience are aficionados who have seen Disney’s movie version a zillion times and can tell you which songs are new. The musical has about eight songs but one lovely major hit song, Let It Go, along with Do You Want to Build a Snowman, a song beloved of the young.
Needless to say, Disney has cast highly able and adorably appealing performers to steal the hearts of the audience. Above all is Courtney Monsma, who plays Anna, the “spare” princess who forsakes all to rescue her big sister. She’s possessed of a glorious voice and even more, a delicious and spirited stage presence. Her big sister Elsa, is literally that with the imposing stature and glamour of Jemma Rix who gets to belt out big songs and perform miraculous feats of transformation. Thomas McGuane makes a chocolate-box pinup Prince Hans while everyone quietly falls in love with Sean Sinclair as Kristoff. Matt Lee is an imposing singing puppeteer and imbues the heroic snowman with cheeky spirit.
All round there are big Broadway voices and all around a huge cast working myriad complex costume changes and fantastically choreographed dance numbers.
Even the Disney merch is fabulous. The foyer sales desks are swamped with eager customers buying their own costumes and costume dolls, including Frozen blankets.
There’s not much for a critic to pick on.
The show opens with a Maypole dance and closes with snow cascading onto the audience. There is humour and drama. The frocks are to die for.
It’s a blockbuster pro show. Go.
When: 28 May to 24 Jul
Where: Festival Theatre
Red Phoenix Theatre. Holden Street Theatres. 27 May 2022
If ever there was a difficult and challenging play to mount on the contemporary stage, Festen is it.
It derives from a renowned Danish Dogme 95 film directed by Thomas Vinterberg and transposed for English stage by David Eldridge.
Impressions of that film had so imprinted on the memory of Red Phoenix director Nick Fagan that this theatre adaptation was irresistible albeit, oh, such a logistical mountain.
It involves a cast of 15 actors and a very nimble production crew.
And then there is the subject matter which strikes through the facade of happy families’ right into the heart of their sad and sly secrets.
This play balances jovial superficiality with dark mutilations of the human spirit. Piece by piece, around the celebrations for the family patriarch’s 70th birthday, the past unravels. But, this is not a dark and gloomy play at all. It is a wild ride. Families are odd beasts. They are made up of love and acrimony, old grudges, rituals, rivalries, eccentricities, outsiders and insiders, all of them bonded by blood, however outrageous. Whatever the sin, you can’t “un” family.
In its style and characters the play and its production sing the filmic idiosyncrasies of its Danish origin, to which end, director Nick Fagan has cast it superbly.
There are some award-worthy performances in the mix, among them and not surprisingly, the ever-consummate Brant Eustice as the very angry older brother, Christian, a surviving twin looking to out a few home truths. For Adrian Barnes, this may just be a career zenith. He carries the core of the play with a calculated restraint which brilliantly underscores the complexity and culpability of his character, Helge the patriarch. Talking of restraint, Lyn Wilson most expertly portrays his passive but ultimately hostile wife.
There are so many crucial characters and so many fine performances. Joh Hartog delights and amuses with the impeccable physicality of his performance as the old grandad. It is hard not to watch him all the time he is on stage. But the competition is fierce. Lovely reactive vignettes draw the eye all the time among these many odd bods.
There’s that obnoxious brother, Michael, played to a strident tee by Nigel Tripodi. The audience is left agape when he shows his character's true colours in front of his sister’s African lover, played with such artful balance by Stephen Tongan.
There are layers to every character, even neurotic old uncle Poul who is quite perfectly embodied by the divine Geoff Revell.
The praise can go on since, as the characters line up at the party tables and dance through the rooms, they are growing upon one. They arise to be the collective everyman of dysfunctional families and in some way, they become our own.
Gary George, Georgia Stockham, Claire Keen, Russel Slater, with Cheryl Douglas and the director standing in for Stuart Pearce - all are strong players in this work.
And then there is Sienna Fagan, the child actor playing the granddaughter. She’s the director’s daughter and in thorough program notes he explains her suitability for a role in this high drama of controversial subject matter. She does him proud. Her presence is extremely significant in the play and her aptitude for the stage shines forth. Brava.
Other production facets of course complete the effectiveness of this massive work: lighting, sets, sound, and costumes.
Pat H Wilson is music supervisor and the music choices underscore, quite literally, the themes of the play serving as yet another feather in the cap of this astounding must-see production.
When: 27 May to 4 Jun
Where: Holden Street Theatres