Monthly Archives: September 2012

Review: Disney’s High School Musical by BTC

By Cameron Malcher

A tale of two worlds: Disney’s High School Musical by Blacktown Theatre Group

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Attending the opening night of Blacktown Theatre Company’s production of High School Musical was an experience that reminded me of why I love community theatre, and ultimately why this site exists. Every professional arts or entertainment industry needs community support to keep it afloat, and to help train the next generation of professionals coming through. Where would the NRL be without thousands of kids dedicating their weekends to club games? Where would professional theatre and entertainment be without community groups giving younger performers a chance to experience the highs and lows of live performance? BTC’s High School Musical is a production that reminded me of just how important community support is to a thriving arts industry.

The production had its hits and misses. Among the positive aspects of this show were some simple yet effective choreography, an impressive consistency of costumes and a fairly minimalist approach to set design that provided a springboard for the imagination without being overbearing.

The biggest highlight for me was the sight of an enthusiastic younger cast getting to test their mettle in the realm of community theatre. While Tyler Hoggard brought a great sense of quirky charisma to the male lead role of Troy Bolton, and Ebony Black showed her vocal talents as Gabriella Montez, among a broad spectrum of ability and talent on display in the supporting cast there were some stand out performers; Justin McCormick as Jack Scott and Bernadette Glynn as Kelsi Nielsen supplied fun comic support throughout the show, while Jasper Newstead as Ms Darbus incited roars of laughter from the crowd.

Seeing a group of teenagers and young adults on stage playing teenagers and young adults reminded me of just how often we see adult performers in their 30s and 40s playing younger roles, which usually guarantees a more polished performance, but raises the question of where and how younger people are expected to gain any significant performance experience in leading roles if companies like BTC don’t provide opportunities like this. Speaking to members of the company after the show I found out that this show had drawn in performers from a wider geographic area than they were used to, with only 4 out of 40 cast members having worked with the company before. This suggests that there is a body of young performers out there looking for such opportunities, and I think supporting productions like this one are a great way to help build up future performers.

Where this production noticeably fell down was in the sound and lighting, which were the two aspects of the production contracted out to ‘professional’ companies. It is a common conundrum for community theatre groups that larger scale productions require more lighting and audio amplification and in the interests of protecting their expensive equipment, hire companies will usually insist on one of their technicians being on hand to handle/operate the equipment during the show. This can be a big expense to community companies, easily running into the thousands of dollars and representing half or more of the total production budget of a show (speaking from my own experience, not from any inside knowledge of BTC). But when performers are left in the dark by lighting cues that are frequently missed, or audio feeds are not being mixed to create a balanced sound (assuming that the singer’s microphones are even turned on in the first place!), it certainly casts a questioning light on the divide between concepts of ‘professional’ and ‘amateur’ in the theatre world. Things came together more effectively for the second act, and I expect they will continue to improve rapidly over the opening weekend, but it’s a real shame that the most amateur thing about the show I saw tonight was in the domain of the professional technicians involved.

Overall, this production is not only a fun staging of a well-known Disney property, but a great effort from BTC to support and develop younger performers in the Western Sydney area.

The show is running for one more week, with full details available at www.blacktowntheatreco.com.

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Review: Blind Tasting – part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival

by Harriet Devlin

On the Limits of Language: Blind Tasting and a Life Without Labels

On a typical chilly Melbourne evening, I trundled down to North Melbourne’s Lithuanian Club (part of the Fringe Hub) to see Blind Tasting – sight unseen… I decided against reading up on the show or performers before attending, excited by the potential of experiencing something new without imposing a prior judgement of what I thought it could, would or should be.

With no expectations of what I was about to see, (which did seem in keeping with the themes of the show, in hindsight) I must admit I was ever-so-slightly perplexed when I saw an actor entering the stage blind-folded. Was she going to stay blindfolded for the entire performance? Was she going to start making awkward jokes about vision-impairment? Was she going to injure herself and have to cancel the entire season?! Thankfully, none of these scenarios eventuated and what followed (with the subsequent removal of the blindfold) was a punchy, whimsical tale of lovelorn Sophie executed exceptionally by actor Sylvia Keays.

Blind Tasting is a one-woman show which epitomises that Fringe Festival feeling; audience interaction, no-nonsense set-up, heartfelt and convincing acting, and a cracking script to boot. Blind Tasting is by turns a meditation on the meaning of life, a pondering on the labels that we impose on ourselves (and those that are given to us by others), and a stand-up comedy routine about sex, wine and cruise ships.

Produced by Sydney-based company, subtlenuance, Blind Tasting is a potent reminder of the importance of living life in the now. Superbly written by Paul Gilchrist, the piece is full of free associations and musings about relationships, personalities and the tyranny of judgement day. With energy, humour and dynamism, actor Sylvia Keays takes us on a journey which begins with her first experience of wine-selling, continues with her first experience of wine-tasting and ends with her first taste of the limitless potential of the present.

The natural sound-effects of the piece (the laughter of the audience, the trams on Errol Street outside and the pedestrian traffic of the Fringe Hub) seemed like “God’s choreography”, adding to the honesty and, at times, unavoidable present-ness of the piece. This simplicity was, however, undermined by occasional unnecessary technical elements which seemed clumsy and out of place in such a small intimate setting. The audience interaction was perhaps not as smooth as it could have been but it didn’t take long for Keays to reel us back into the wonder of wine and its lessons of ageing, complexity and satisfaction.

On the whole, my blind tasting of Blind Tasting, (although perhaps a little rough around the edges) proved fun, thought-provoking and insightful. Here’s to subtlenuance, to an absence of to-do lists, and to the presence of those special people in our lives – present and passed – who value us without judgement. Cheers!

28 September – 5 October 2012
Melbourne Fringe Hub
The Loft, Lithuanian Club
$20 (Adult) / $15 (Conc) / $10 (Tues)
www.melbournefringe.com.au / 03 9660 9666

Review: Dating the World – part of the Sydney Fringe Festival

by Erica Brennan

Dating The World – part of the Sydney Fringe.

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I had heard whispers of good things about ‘Dating the World’ for awhile now and I was not disappointed. As I sat for the second time is as many weeks at the New Theatre I gazed upon a mostly bare stage with some cleverly hidden (and some not so, thank you theatre black curtains) objects and waited. Soon Stevl Shefn arrives with a battered suitcase, looking charmingly battered himself and greets us unintelligible language. He chatters away in a convincing manner hoping to get some kind of information out of us. A smile on his face and a nervous click to his voice, he tries again and again to explain what he wants. Finally his translator, Fatima, in full body burqa and just as fluent in Stevl’s language as ours, arrives. The two have a brief flurry of conversation and then she stands demurely to one side explaining that she will translate everything Stevl says.

Stevl has set himself up to give a lecture on love, but it is anything but. He starts to tell stories of what I think are failed love affairs all translated fluently by Fatima, but none of them seem to climax properly. Instead Stevl deviates further and further, distracted by his own delight, until you as an audience member you realise the deviations are the story and it ends. The performing duo of Steve Sheehan and Emma Beech were exceptionally skilled walking the line between understatement and character acting beautifully. You could never quite relax into the situation or become truly absorbed in the story. The effect was an electrifying tension.

As a piece of comedy ‘Dating the World’ is twisty and turny, it doesn’t give anything away. I found myself searching for meaning in every new story, each side tale and deviation. I was trying to decide what words were important, which anecdote was the one at which I supposed to be going ‘ah ha!’ I was waiting for a reveal of some kind, like learning the significance of why Fatmia in a burqua. About halfway through I blushed at my own pompous presumption that there had to be a definite reason for it.

It sounds like a frustrating experience but it was actually just the opposite. I was leaning forward the whole time with a bemused smile on my face and a soft chuckle in my throat. Fatima and her burqua were only small considerations, like many of my other attempts to make meaning, and I quickly found myself letting go and just enjoying this theatrical offering. Now after some time has passed I began to wonder if the crowning jewel of the piece was in acknowledging that people are weird. That we want to connect with others and so we struggle through our weirdness to do this, through dating, friendship, performance, etc. Then perhaps it is our obsession with meaning making that stops us from actually just sitting and allowing that connection to happen without explanation.

Or maybe ‘Dating the World’ was just a truly beautiful deviation from traditional three beat rhythms of performance. It reminded me of British stand up comedian Bill Bailey, a bit less melancholic, but a fine example of the imagination going gently wild. Go catch it if you can.

RLE presents Les Miserables

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Help Theatre Junkies continue to grow!

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Review: Frank Christie, Frank Clarke – part of the Sydney Fringe Festival

By Shelley Frame

Parking and then walking through The Norton Street Piazza, I couldn’t believe that it took so long for a professional performance space to become established. It is by far the most perfect venue, smack bang in the middle of one of Sydney’s best eating and drinking neighborhoods (and its open late), public transport a breeze and a flat rate parking station, nearly unheard of anywhere else in Sydney!

The venue itself, The Italian Forum Cultural Centre, is sparklingly new and oh so cool, with art from The Fringe Arts at The Forum Show in the foyer and super cute bar tenders. So expectations were high, but the cast of Frank Christie Frank Clarke! Did not disappoint.

It’s the standard story of bad boy, good at heart trying to make it with the use of a few scams in a tough world, the whole time being pursued by the police and vengeful husband, throw in a love interest, an overly zealous drama queen, 2 great mates, a token Aboriginal grandmother and the desire to become a media mogul and American politician, yeah, it’s your basic Australian gold fields musical drama.

It is always a worry going to see musical theatre that the whole evening could turn into cringe worthy amateur hour, but this cast more than proved themselves to be exceptionally strong musicians who seemed to arrive at every note effortlessly and cover every corner of the theatre without any assistance.

There were moments of awkwardness between Frank Gardiner (played by Brent Dolahenty) and Wu Lin (played by Lena Cruz) when their duets A Fire Place in My Life and In The Rain seemed overly serious and uncomfortable in a show that seemed much more at easy being playful and quirky. Thankfully things got back into the swing of it with amazing and dynamic duets between Erni (played by Timothy Monley) and Dave (played by Trent Kidd) Won’t Whinge and Won’t Whinge reprise were classics in pantomime style. Frederick Pottinger (played by John Derum) and James Torpy (played by Laurance Coy) performed Vengeance in such an energetic way it was hard to keep up with them and left us inclined to support them in their evil plans to capture Frank Gardiner.

Director and Stage Mangaer, Aarne Neeme, worked with the original design concept of Peter Flemming and Allan McFadden, that of the 19th Century music Hall style. The playful use of hats as costumes and props all happen around the brilliant musicians at the center of the stage. At times this seemed a little messy but allowed for free use of the space and audience participation.
With so many exceptionally good performances to choose from across the Fringe Festival, Frank Christie Frank Clarke! would be a good choice if you are looking for old school entertainment and enjoy to a laugh. It’s appropriate enough that I have no problem recommending it if you wish to take children along or as the beginnings of a night out on Norton street.

Performances are at The Italian Forum Cultural Centre entrance in the piazza, 23 Norton Street, Leichardt, 27 September and 29 at 9pm; and September 28 and 30 at 6.30pm. Tickets are $25, $20 for concession and can be booked online at sydneyfringe.com.au or welovefrank.com.au, or by phone on 9020 6980. Or go to Italian Forum Cultural Centre Facebook page and take advantage of the 2 for 1 ticket deal they have advertised at the moment.

Review: Sweet Sixteen, or The Birthday Party Massacre – part of the Sydney Fringe Festival.

By Anne Laidlaw

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Multiple award winner Tommy Bradson (Sydney Fringe 2011 Award for excellence) is back with a much anticipated one-man show Sweet sixteen – or the birthday party massacre. With show notes indicating “there should be cake. There might be blood. There will be rock’n’roll” it certainly seemed like a sweet sixteen party not to be missed.

Sweet sixteen is captivating from the very first second. As you walk into the Reginald Theatre a talented three-piece band, consisting of Alon Ilsar on drums, Mick Stuart on guitar and Sean Hennessy-Brose on keys, churns out relaxing instrumental music behind a colourful, wonderfully cluttered set. A dining table set for 8, comfy sofa, birthday presents and a blown up pool filled with balloons give the small stage area a festive yet comfortable homey atmosphere that puts the audience at ease straight away.

Bradson makes his first entrance in a purple poncho, introducing himself and belting out a hearty rendition of Let’s have party before gliding off stage. In his absence a classic BBC radio voice can be heard outlining the plot of the coming production, a surprise party for one Lula Whitlam, as the voice fades away Bradson returns as the first of his four main characters, Lula’s mother June. June is determined to have a successful surprise party for her daughter with everything from fairy-bread to cheese cubes, because everyone knows “you can’t have a party without cheese cubes.” Aside from June Bradson also takes on the personas of Lula’s beer guzzling father Gary, also responsible for the pig on the spit, her boyfriend Johnny and finally Lula herself.

Each of the four main characters is given the chance to enhance their narrative by performing songs chosen to showcase their individual plights. From June’s soulful rendition of Dead end street to Gary’s Demon Alcohol, and Johnny’s Be-bop-a-Lula Bradson manages to draw the audience into the characters world and capture the spirit of Australian suburbia in the sixties.

Though I don’t remember any of this era myself the music composition, arranged by acclaimed Melbourne musician John Thorn, really struck a chord with me and again added to the general atmosphere of the performance whilst giving weight to the characters and allowing Bradson to showcase his musical talent.

The intimate scale of the Reginald theatre was perfect for this performance, confining the audience to a manageable area when the inevitable “audience participation” segment of the production commenced.

Although I’m not usually a fan of audience interaction, in fact it makes my heart speed up just thinking about it, I found that in this instance it added an extra dimension to the play and enabled the audience to really connect with the story being told. In fact by the end I was almost wishing I did get pulled on stage…almost.

A couple of minor hiccups with the microphone and placement of props proved the only downsides to the evening. These mishaps could easily have thrown off the performance but instead seemed to lend themselves to the absurd nature of the entire experience. This I believe is a testament to the professionalism of Tommy Bradson and his supporting cast (audience included).

Overall Sweet sixteen – or the birthday party massacre is a show not for the feint-hearted. It is a no holds barred take on Australian suburban life in all its glory, complete with gasp worthy non-PC remarks. My advice – check your judgement at the door and sit back and enjoy the pure frivolity of it all.

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