Come From Away

written by Irene Sankoff and David Hein

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Comedy Theatre, Melbourne
until 8 March 2020

I’ve heard so much about this world-wide sensation…is it the most amazing musical ever? Well, not really. It’s energetic, it’s meticulously timed and directed, it’s fast-paced – sometimes too fast-paced – but I have the same problem I had with Bohemian Rhapsody. It’s so nice. Everyone is nice. There’s a bit of humorous conflict about a bus strike and a dash of racism and angry voices against an Egyptian called Ali and a woman in a hijab but other than that it’s just nice. Joyous. Exuberant. And nice.

Given the incredible subject matter, that is, what happened to the 6.5K people on flights diverted in the wake of 9/11, I was expecting emotional depth. Passion. Despair. None of that really because there’s too many people to examine their individual emotional lives in depth. What this show does do is give us glimmers of the fear, worries and heartache of the people on the plane and then zero in on two couples: a gay couple (Nicholas Brown and Doug Hansell as the two Kevins) and a Texan woman (Katrina Retallick) getting together with an Englishman (Nathan Carter). What the show does well is present us with the reality that generosity of spirit, warmth, acceptance and compassion can do extraordinary things. And that’s a great message.

The music is uncannily Irish, full of life, but I can’t remember one song. There was a pretty ballad “Me and the Sky” from Beverley (Zoe Gertz), a pilot on an American Airlines flight that fateful day…well, I don’t remember the tune but it made an impact because it was heartfelt.  When is a musical not a musical? I read this show described somewhere as a ‘song cycle’ and I think that hits the nail on the head. The music is a soundtrack to the lives and it’s all just got to keep moving.

After the exuberant opening number, within 5 minutes I was thinking this would make a great screenplay. I loved the band giving us a taste of Newfoundland shindigging at the close and I look forward to the movie…I bet there’ll be one.

Irene

irene

Hayes Theatre, Potts Point.

January 8 to January 11, 2020.

Director Shaun Rennie
Choreographer Cameron Mitchell
Musical Director Chris King

Love, love, loved this!

With just one day’s rehearsals, this was a knockout show. You hardly noticed those nifty little spiral bound A5 scripts. Many of the cast hardly looked at them at all – particularly star of the show Stefanie Caccamo as Irene. What a beautiful, sensitive, spot on performance as the feisty young Irishwoman who dares to dream.

I saw Irene when I was a girl and all the songs came back to me – ‘The World must be bigger than an Avenue’, ‘We’re getting away with it’, ‘I’m always Chasing Rainbows’. Wow! Music by Harry Tierney – I looked him up and must say I’m not really familiar with any of his other musicals. But Irene was and is a beauty! And, as director Shaun Rennie pointed out in his little introduction, it was the longest running Broadway musical of its time (1919). I did miss If Only He Knew that Julie Anthony sang so hauntingly in the original Oz version in 1974…

With the marvellous Nancye Hayes as Irene’s matter-of-fact mother and Mandy Bishop as a riotous Mrs Marshall, the cast shone. The girls from 9th Avenue were fab – Ashleigh Rubenach and Ayesha Madon as Irene’s pals Jane and Helen and the boys worked beautifully as an ensemble: Rob Johnson, Connor Neylon and Axel Duffy. ‘The Great Lover Tango’ with Rob Mallett as the Stuffed Shirt Donald Marshall III was hilarious and I also loved that quirky little ‘The Riviera Rage’.

See this if you can!

Judy and Punch

Judyandpunch2019posterWritten and directed by Mirrah Foukes

Cast includes Mia Wasikowska and Damon Herriman

A devastating movie. Beautiful. Breathtaking cinematography. Violent. Cruel. Tense. Extraordinary. If this doesn’t win every award at the next Australian film awards there is something wrong.

Gothic, dark and menacing with a twisted fairytale quality. As well as a bit of Mad Max-type post-apocalyptic chaos and carnage.  Set in a brutal village in a brutal period of history, there’s candlelit rooms, dark laneways of cobblestones, crowds baying for blood and much nocturnal scuttling around in hooded capes. This is a dog eat dog world (or perhaps a dog eat sausage world?) where brutality reigns supreme. Stonings are entertainment. And viciously beating your wife until she’s scarcely alive is… well, ‘that’s how you do it’.  Resonating themes of violence, vengeance and choosing good  are so powerful it’s impossible to see this film without reflecting on the world today. How do we stand up to injustice? How can the unempowered gain strength? A fascinating study of forgiveness and lack of forgiveness.

The famous Punch & Judy puppetry creates a wonderful world of clever recurring imagery – the constable with his baton, Mr Frankly and his truncheon bearing hoons who are skilled at extracting confessions, the rabbits (both dead and worm-infected and cute and alive), the crocodile scene – fabulous!

Brilliant cast. Agonisingly sad when Scaramouche (Terry Norris) remains kindly and polite to the end and his poor wife Maude (Brenda Palmer) simply suffers quietly beyond all imagining. The ensemble of Forest people including the beguiling doctor (Gillian Jones) show by their resourcefulness and courage that they may be outcasts but they will remain together, co-operative, cheerful and courageous. And non-violent aside from skinning those rabbits.

Brilliant script – wry comments here and there that make you laugh out loud even if the situation is so appalling. Like the crying drunk in the lane, supposing that they need ‘to mix it up’ a bit when it comes to hangings and stonings so everyone doesn’t get bored…

Boisterous, playful and wickedly dark. An exceptional tale of how easily crowds can be manipulated, how individuals make their own choices and how much evil lurks in the human heart. As the credits run, the final footage of 1950’s school children watching Punch beat the hell out Judy and the looks of terror on their faces is especially chilling.

Knives Out

Written, produced and directed by Rian Johnson

knives-out-houseOpening shot is divine. Grand old house silhouetted against foreboding sky and in the foreground piles of crunchy autumn leaves lie looking crunchy and autumnal. Two black dogs appear in the distance and run towards camera.

Sort of goes downhill from there. Not downhill, just not particularly memorable.

Daniel Craig as Benoit Blanc had me guessing for a little while. Is that a really bad French accent? Surely not. Is he trying to be Hercules Poirot? And then it became clearer – it was a Southern US drawl. Confusing. He was softly spoken but that’s about all. He wasn’t intuitive. He wasn’t passionate. He wasn’t particularly interesting. Sadly he was a spineless anaemic character up on the big screen and Daniel didn’t really have much to play with.

Ana de Armas as Marta Cabrera plays her nursing role beautifully with wide-eyed innocence and sincerity.  A nice portrayal of a young Latino woman in a sticky situation. But could she be involved in this –? And Michael Shannon as Walt with his menacing walking cane. Could he have – ? Would he – ? And the fabulous ditsy Joni (Toni Colette)? It’s fun to guess.

Christopher Plummer gives a fine portrayal as the 85 year old patriarch, full of life, full of money and probably the only one full of good sense. The question is what will he do with all that wealth? And will his beloved family like his decision?

But some gripes…

The sunburst of knives that figures in so many scenes is wonderful. It frames anyone who sits in front of it like an evil halo. But there’s little other imagery that stands out.

Thought it would be a lot funnier than it is. There’s a few jolly moments but not many. The murder/mystery genre has a grand history but the dialogue in this particular movie was pedestrian (“asshole, asshole, asshole”) and lacked wit. Some ruthless script editing would do wonders…it doesn’t  need to be 130 minutes long.

But at least it’s entertaining to watch a seemingly together family descend into chaos because of that bothersome old thing called greed.

 

 

Sombrero Fallout

Sombrero Fallout
by Richard Brautigan

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I have a collection of short stories coming out in early 2020 and one of them (the very last one) has a very strong Richard Brautigan influence.  I love his writing. This book is a gem. Brilliant. Funny. Short. Chapters are unbelievably un-chapter-like. And they all have crazy names. Like Hamburgers. July. Temperature. Berries.

It’s the story of an American writer who is obsessed with his ex-lover, a Japanese woman with extremely long, black hair. He imagines who she is sleeping with and it is at the point of driving him crazy. And then he finds one very long, black hair…

Meanwhile, he begins a story about a sombrero that mystically falls from the sky then rips it into pieces in exasperation. But the story takes on a life of its own.

As the Japanese woman dreams…

And that’s it. Weird, wonderful, so very Brautigan and so tragic.

Love it.

 

 

Caroline, or Change

Book & Lyrics by Tony Kushner
Music by Jeanine Tesori
Directed by Mitchell Butel

23 August to 28 September 2019
Hayes Theatre

Starring Elenoa Rokobaro as Caroline, Nkechi Anele, Andrew Cutcliffe, Alexandra Fricot, Amy Hack, Daniel Harris, Emily Havea, Tony Llewellyn-Jones, Genevieve Lemon, Ruva Ngwenya, Elijah Williams and Ryan Yeates

caroline

Production photo of Elenoa Rokobaro as Caroline by Phil Erbacher

Not sure about this one. Relentless. Blasting music, inter-cut scenes, not a pause to be seen. The only time the audience has time to breathe is right near the end when Caroline sings a song alone on the stage in a strange wrestle-with-myself-and-fling-my-handbag-around. The audience is so shocked at this that they applause. But by then it’s too late.

Like a theatrical Oprah Winfrey Show. Like a Motown Sondheim but with little wit or subtlety.  No light or shade (ironic, really, given the prominence of La Luna) and, sorry to say, no real emotion. Flat. The most poignant song for me was the dad’s song (Anthony Cutcliffe) to his son which is sad considering there were so many woman singing and dancing their hearts out the whole night.

At interval, my friend turned to me and said: There’s no story. He had something there. This is a different kind of structure to musicals Australian audiences are familiar with. The idea is to blast emotion at you. Spinal Taps’ up to 11 all the way. And we’ll be washed along without having to think too much. And in the end we’ll walk out thinking everything’s OK.

Such massive events and emotions touched on  – swelling Civil rights movement, death of JFK, Korean war – but they never quite make it. Small boy (Ryan Yeates as Noah) calling Caroline the President just didn’t gel even though it clunkily flags later reference to JFK.

One of the most beautiful moments was the very beginning. Low lights. Sound of frogs. Caroline standing, staring straight ahead. Backdrop of full moon and Moon Lady (a satin-draped Ruva Ngwenya) are exquisite.

Fragmented stage reflected frenzied score. 3 doowop girls in sequins pays homage to Little Shop of Horrors. Or is a rip-off. Neurotic Jewish family. Well, that’s kinda been done. And overblown lyrics towards the end suddenly trying to wrap up the story – in fact, trying to get a story in there somewhere –  is awkward.

Then there’s a protagonist who doesn’t change. That’s just weird.

Yes, she is a rock. She will be the mother of African Americans who change history. So being a grumpy maid is more than enough. Is that it?

Strong performances – cast was not the problem. Interesting, complex, eclectic music. But sound was muffled particularly in the opening scene with the wolf/devil/evil husband whoever he was. And why did they sometimes say “Caroline” and other times call her “Carolyn”? Is that a Southern thing? And that comma in the title really gets me!

Strangely dissatisfying.

 

Sweeney Todd at Darling Harbour Theatre

anthony warlowSomething very wrong with this production.

Went last night. Memorable because we were KICKED OUT of our seats in the Dress Circle at 7.27PM and forcibly relocated downstairs – consequently about 100 poor souls were LOCKED OUT from opening scene – AND they had the audacity to reassure us: You’ll only miss one song. But that’s another story, thank you to management of ICC and TEG Life Life Touring for ruining the evening…

But back to the show.

Something very wrong. Anthony Warlow was brilliant. A rich, warm, voice; a menacing presence; he seemed to channel Len Cariou. Mesmerising.

The other cast members? Well, they were all over the place. Variable. They seemed to be singing in their own little solo worlds not to each other. Weird. Toby (Jonathan Hickey) was notably good. And barber shop duets with Sweeney and Judge Turpin (Daniel Sumegi) were spot on. As Mrs Lovett, Gina Riley was too nice.

The set was odd. The orchestra took up half the stage. Why?

I have seen countless productions of ST and this set was one of the ugliness and most non-functional. Why the round dining room table? Is that the best they could do? In the final scene, there is the build-up to Sweeney returning. Will he burst out of the oven? Or from below? Or from above?

Nah. He’s just been crouching behind everyone. He hops up on the little steps, stands on the dining room and that’s it. Lame.

Biggest disappointment was the BARBER’S CHAIR . This is everything. It should be the focus of dire violence and vengeance and Sweeney’s dashed hopes and dreams but this barber’s chair is absolutely pathetic. Even amateur productions make excellent use of a trap door so that Sweeney slashes his victim’s throat, pulls the lever and – wham! – they’re gone.

This production had Sweeney slashing throats (with not nearly enough blood) with the victims remaining in the chair, then standing up and walking off stage. ABSOLUTELY PATHETIC. The worst, most anti-climatic interpretation I have ever seen.

Staging was messy. The chorus gathered around that stupid dining room table were hard to place. Were we in the street? Were we in Fogg’s lunatic asylum? Why were some of the women wearing JEANS?? And when Sweeney was writing to Judge Turpin why was one of the chorus sitting at the dining room table mimicking his writing??

Again, Anthony Warlow was brilliant but that’s about it. Strangely uncompelling and antiseptic with not nearly enough blood, gore, lust and passion.