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.
I saw the 27 September performance. The whole night was indeed a great spring outing, given the Forum location – bit of vino and wood fire pizza and fire jugglers (!) then inside for some Aussie theatre, which I guess I’d best describe along the lines of Bazza McKenzie meets Oklohoma!