Review: Carmen, Live Or Dead (Oriel Entertainment Group)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Apr 28 – May 13, 2018
Music & Lyrics: iOTA
Book: Craig Harwood
Director: Shaun Rennie
Cast: Natalie Gamsu, Stefanie Jones, Andrew Kroenert
Images by David Hooley

Theatre review
It is true that Frida Kahlo had had an affair with Soviet politician Leon Trotsky, but it is entirely fictional that a lovechild was born as a result of that brief relationship. Nonetheless, Craig Harwood’s vividly imagined Carmen, Live Or Dead almost has us believing in its fantasy, that Kahlo’s offspring does exist, and that Carmen Frida Leon Davidovich had once lived in Australia.

It is an appealing fabrication; the idea that Kahlo’s magnificence lives on beyond her legendary paintings, and Harwood does create a persona that is as colourful and spirited as any fan could wish for, even if the writer’s plot structure has a tendency to be unnecessarily convoluted. Prominent in the presentation, are eight original songs by iOTA, all of them charming, often very quirky in style, and thankfully not too derivative of the Broadway genre.

Visually sumptuous, the production features a whimsical set, exquisitely decorated and painted by designer Dann Barber, evoking quintessential Mexican beauty, alongside enchanting imagery that pays tribute to the art of Kahlo. Benjamin Brockman’s lights are sensual and alluring, providing a sensation of transcendence that convincingly elevates the theatrical experience, whilst retaining its delicious and unique aura of street-smart griminess.

Director Shaun Rennie manufactures a series of captivating moods, allowing every scene to intrigue, with moments of visceral engagement that leave an impression. Performer Natalie Gamsu is a warm presence who shines in each song, but the character being portrayed does not always feel authentic; her true emotions are elusive and the connections we make can feel tentative. Stefanie Jones and Andrew Kroenert provide musical accompaniment, as well as actorly support, both accomplished with their contributions, for a show memorable for the surprising effectiveness of its restrained approach to instrumentation.

Carmen announces her impending death early in the show, inviting us to partake in flashback summations of her life and times, that constitute this piece of musical theatre. We are also inspired to consider our own deaths, and how our individual stories will eventually be told. Footprints will fade, but nothing matters more than how much good we are able to leave behind.

www.carmenliveordead.com

5 Questions with Stefanie Jones and Andrew Kroenert

Stefanie Jones

Andrew Kroenert: Who do you think should have a fictional lovechild?
Stefanie Jones: Of all our most loved and most famous cultural icons, a child between Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio (once they’d separated) would have been pretty cool. She would have made a great mother, and we know how much he loved her. On top of all that, what a gene pool! So all the right ingredients, I say.

If it were the last day of your life, how would you spend it?
Without a doubt, Brisbane. My parents created the most beautiful family home there for us to grow up in, with an outdoor terrace and a pool surrounded by palm trees to watch the sun go down over. Being able to sit there with a glass of wine in my hand, with my mother’s cooking on the table and surrounded by family and friends would be absolutely perfect.

If you could play any role of the opposite gender, what would it be?
The Emcee in Cabaret would be oodles of fun! He is confused, in some ways debased, yet he is intelligent and has that rare ability to turn tragedy into satire / comedy. Cabaret is a very smart, important and relevant story so any role in that show would be a dream and also a great way to continue talking about our political and social history.

Any pre-show rituals or superstitions?
No, although I wish I had a few to help with my nerves sometimes! Mainly I just like to not feel rushed, to have the time to check in with fellow cast mates and to get ready at a comfortable pace, unlike Andrew Kroenert.

If you could have written any pop song, what would it be?
‘Never Give Up On The Good Times’ by The Spice Girls. It just came to me, and I’m sold on this choice.

Andrew Kroenert

Who do you think should have a fictional lovechild?
Doesn’t everyone want Tina Fey and Amy Poehler to have a ridiculously funny, quirky (and most likely wonderfully camp) little boy? He would be absolute heaven.

If it was the last day of your life, how would you spend it?
Last day on earth I would probably host a BBQ at my house with all my family during the day, hang out with the nephews and have a few beers with my siblings and parents. Then I’d send them home and have a quiet evening with my partner, Jess. Maybe split a bottle of wine, play some cards listen to all my favourite music.

If you could play any role of the opposite gender, what would it be?
I think it would be super fun to play Cathy in The Last Five Years. It would be interesting to see how the themes and people’s feelings towards those characters would hold were they played by members of the opposite sex.

Do you have any pre-show rituals?
I don’t have any pre-show rituals but I’m never in costume before the 5 minute call, in fact I try to stay out of costume for as long as possible before a show starts! And I’ll always have a coffee before a show.

If you could acquire any one skill to add to the strings of your bow, what would it be?
I would like to be fluent in another language. Having just been to Mexico currently that language is Spanish although I have long wished to be fluent in French.

Stefanie Jones and Andrew Kroenert can be seen in Carmen, Live Or Dead , by Craig Harwood and iOTA.
Dates: 28 Apr – 6 May, 2018
Venue: Hayes Theatre