Review: Pinocchio (The Sydney Fringe)

Venue: The Sydney Fringe Warehouse (Alexandria NSW), Sep 25 – 29, 2017
Director: Julia Robertson
Cast: Max Harris, Mathew Lee, Oliver Shermacher, Annie Stafford, Grace Stamnas, Laura Wilson
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Set in 1940 Italy, at the height of Mussolini’s rule as Prime Minister and leader of the National Fascist Party, this version of Pinocchio sees our poor woodcarver Geppetto in his work room alone with his marionettes, trying to keep to himself, as he shuts out the ugliness of the world outside. Wordless but vivaciously animated, the show utilises techniques from the disciplines of mime, dance, music and singing, to tell a story of the individual versus the state, of the personal and the political. Our current sensitivity regarding the rise of nationalist ideologies, gives this incarnation of Pinocchio a quiet but unyielding resonance.

Its serious themes notwithstanding, this modern reiteration, directed by Julia Robertson and choreographed by Georgia Britt, is a wonderfully enchanting take on the old tale. Geppetto’s fantasy land, innocent and pure, provides the platform for a performance that appeals to our childlike sensibilities. Set and lighting designer Nick Fry manufactures a nostalgic beauty for the unusual, and enormous, venue, containing the action and our attention, with a clever understanding of space and atmosphere.

The crucial element of tenderness is brought to the stage by Mathew Lee, who shines in the role of Geppetto. His depiction of naivety allows us to see with unequivocal clarity, evil forces that try to engulf. The scene-stealing Annie Stafford displays an irrepressible presence even when playing an insentient doll, especially captivating when given an opportunity to show off her divine soprano. Harmonies in this Pinocchio are ethereal, often exquisite, performed with marvellous acoustic effect by a cast of six, inside the surprising elegance of a repurposed concrete warehouse.

We thought everything had been finalised and decided, when the fascists lost the war. Not a century has passed, and we again hear those despicable murmurs beginning to resurface, trying for a second attempt at its tyranny. There are no elongating noses in Geppetto’s studio, because this time, the lies are on the outside. The artist’s efforts to hide and disengage are futile. He is required to fight back, if his dignity is to remain intact.

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Review: Little Egypt’s Speakeasy (Grand Moustache / Django Bar)

grandmoustacheVenue: Camelot Lounge (Marrickville NSW), Nov 6 – 9, 2014
Writers: Luke Escombe, Lucian McGuiness, Dominic Santangelo
Director: Lucian McGuiness
Cast: Brian Campeau, Kelly Ann Doll, Amos Elroy, Luke Escombe, Danica Lee, Lucian McGuiness, Katie-Elle Reeve, Dominic Santangelo, Damien Slingsby, Elana Stone, Aaron Flower, Nick Hoorweg, Evan Mannell, Mathew Ottignon
Image by Frank Farrugia

Theatre review
The term speakeasy refers to the illegal trade of alcohol during the American “prohibition” period from 1920 to 1933, and Little Egypt is the name of an exotic dancer from even earlier in the twentieth century. Lucian McGuiness’ show Little Egypt’s Speakeasy draws inspiration from both, to recreate the setting of a nightclub filled with sounds and sights from the 1950s. McGuiness is leader of the handsomest band in town, with four kooky vocalists, and a beatnik MC who provides the thread that helps us imagine the narrative that the show is vaguely built upon. Incorporated flawlessly are two burlesque dancers and the band leader’s comedic brother Don who owns the joint.

There are some stellar performances in the piece. The dancers Kelly Ann Doll and Danica Lee are both scintillating and drop dead gorgeous. The MC and narrator Amos Elroy has the deepest voice imaginable from a baby face, with a use of words and humour that is transportative and quite magnificent. Singer Elana Stone is vibrant in personality and in voice, and her male counterpart Brian Campeau is simply divine with a Chet Baker style sensuality, only with much stronger pipes. McGuiness is star of the show with an extraordinarily sharp presence that exemplifies the irresistible sexual allure of the entire evening.

Don and his club’s story do not quite take hold, but the introduction of a through line for a cabaret show is ambitious and astute. It is almost human nature to want to follow a plot, and the experience is certainly enriched with Don and the MC bringing cohesion to the many separate items presented. Little Egypt’s Speakeasy brings a taste of the bohemian life to Sydney, and it is delicious.

camelotlounge.wordpress.com | www.lucianmcguiness.com

Review: Stones In Her Mouth (Mau)

stonesinhermouthVenue: Carriageworks (Eveleigh NSW), May 28 – 31, 2014
Choreography: Lemi Ponifasio
Director: Lemi Ponifasio

Theatre review
There are many juxtapositions in Lemi Ponifasio’s Stones In Her Mouth. The company’s ten performers are all women, interpreting a male director’s vision. The setting is ultra-modern, but much of the content feels firmly rooted in tradition. The women sing songs that seem to be from a folk practice, but their recorded accompaniment is evocative of a futuristic space age soundscape. Imagery is expressed almost entirely in black and white. The deep contrasts are in a constant state of negotiation, searching for harmony and moments of lucidity. The show is often about struggle, but the quality of performance is never in strife. The Mau company is flawless, and the proficiency at which their art is practiced, is staggering.

It is not an exaggeration to say that watching these women in action is awe-inspiring. There is a sense of shamanistic ecstasy to this work. Their voices and physicality are thoroughly honed, to a degree that would be astonishing for any audience. The cohesion and consonance in the ensemble, along with the level of focus they achieve as individuals, play almost like a miracle, unfathomable yet irrefutably real. Their connection with us is a spiritual one, because their language is ritualistic, and their states of trance move us and envelope us so that we too feel a part of the divine.

Stones In Her Mouth is also political. The show begins with the cast in darkness. We hear them but we cannot see them. A bright white light shines instead at us, transfixed in our seats, so that we become the object of fetish, and they in turn dictate the terms at which they are to be viewed. The work makes few explicit statements, but it is impossible to doubt the social significance of gender, ethnicity and colonial imperialism, implicative in each gesture and utterance. Our position as viewer shifts between the arraigned, the aggressor, and ally. The women portray complexity, but they are invariably powerful and dignified.

Ponifasio’s creation is breathtaking and transcendental. His art moves us by virtue of its very presence, and it is in the unique shaping of that presence with his masterful manipulation of time and space, that Ponifasio presents his exceptional artistry.

www.carriageworks.com.au | www.mau.co.nz

Review: Chi Udaka (TaikOz / Lingalayam)

chiudakaVenue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Jan 16 – 18, 2013
Directors: Anandavalli & Ian Cleworth
Choreographer: Anandavalli
Music: Ian Cleworth, Riley Lee, Aruna Parthiban, John Napier

Theatre review
Chi Udaka sees a collaboration between two Australian companies from disparate backgrounds. TaikOz’s performance is based on Japanese percussion and wind instruments, and Lingalayam explores traditional Indian dance and music. Both companies work with specific disciplines and cultural influences, but come together to seek out a mode of expression that combines their respective talents. Whether discovering similarities or using disparities, Chi Udaka features a showcase with flashes of symbiosis, discordance and parallels.

Directors Anandavalli and Ian Clenworth do not seem to work with an ideal outcome in mind, but focus instead on a sense of exploration and surprise. What results is a production that is unpredictable and intriguing. One unifying component is a mesmerising quality that both cultures possess within their own forms, and their show together is definitely an enthralling experience. There is a spiritual element that is undeniable in the work, and in spite of the diversity in modern religious lives, it appeals to the sacred in each person, and aims for an uplifted audience.

An unfortunate flaw in the production is lighting design. Largely due to the restrictions of the York Theatre, which does not have conventional wings to allow for floods of light to illuminate the performers bodies effectively, the production has a muted look that prevents a greater, more direct connection with the audience. Relying on lamps from fly bars and footlights work well in the more subdued sections, but they detract from the efforts on stage in the more rousing moments of the piece.

Chi Udaka is a modern Australian marriage, imagined and realised by adventurous and brave people in the arts. It is a new dawn in our continuing re-definition of the Australian identity in our artistic and social landscapes, and while things may not always be smooth and easy going, this is a show that demonstrates a desire for purity and a respect for pluralism. It is a joyful moment when we are able to cherish all our different histories, and converge with trust and peace to create a new voice, one that embraces all that is good about the land on which we live and breathe.

www.taikoz.com
www.lingalayam.com

Inspiration Porn (New Theatre)

rsz_24_inspiration_pornVenue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 26 – 28, 2013
Performers: Hayley Flowers, Kiruna Stamell, Damien Noyce, James Cunningham, Josphine Lancuba, Asphyxia
Image by Jeff Tan

Theatre review
Inspiration Porn features six different acts presenting their individual works. Their common thread is the idea of inspiration, and what results is a moving night at the theatre.

Kiruna Stamell’s Coffee & Sheep is mainly physical theatre, although there are monologual elements. She also uses burlesque in her act, as well as a good dose of absurdity, which all adds up to a form of performance that resists categorisation. Stamell is simultaneously funny and serious, and the audience is never too sure whether a message exists in her work. What is certain though, is the irresistible magnetism of this performer, and the effectiveness of her work. She keeps you enthralled, bewildered, and wanting more. Stamell is the kind of artist that cultivates a loyal following, a natural star.

James Cunningham presents a highly unusual dance routine based around the loss of the use of his left arm. He also demonstrates an exercise involving a mirror that helps him negotiate his new physicality. Almost creating an illusion of symmetry using his functioning arm, Cunningham talks us through the process and we are thoroughly transfixed. In his presentation, we witness the strength of spirit that has been awoken by his unfortunate accident.

Finally, we are served an extract from The Grimstones, a gothic marionette performance that is truly sublime. These wooden characters by artist Asphyxia, possess a kind of hyper-reality and they convey emotions that no real actor can. Their story is simple but due to the way their world has been constructed and presented, every gesture they make becomes deeply touching. Even though their world is far removed from our daily lives, there is a sense of authenticity that connects with us, and we feel the puppet masters earnestly tugging at our heartstrings.

http://2013.sydneyfringe.com/…

The Slow Days: Distilled (King Street Theatre)

The Slow DaysVenue: King Street Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 12 – 14, 2013
Clare Heuston: keys, ukulele, vocals
Tess Aboud: ukulele, vocals
Dan OpdeVeigh: guitars, percussion, vocals

Show review
The Slow Days is a band that writes and performs songs that can be described as modern folk music. Although occasionally melancholic, their sound is characteristically light and spiritual. No religious affiliation is immediately evident, but this trio’s performance is certainly the opposite of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.

Distilled is a 50-minute set that features original tunes from each of the musicians, and it must be said that the show is tightly rehearsed. The set list is carefully planned, and the audience is taken on a very pleasant journey with each song bearing an individuality that keeps the show fresh and surprising.

While each member of the band retains their own personality, the group maintains a comfortable and warm cohesion. It is however, notable that Clare Heuston’s voice is particularly mesmerising. The range of tones she is able to produce, most memorably in her song Pearl, and the ease with which she reaches every note, high or low, makes for a very special and exhilarating afternoon of alternative music.

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