Sunday, 21 April 2013

Under Milk Wood, Canberra Rep

I hate reviews that blame the play for the fact that the evening didn't work. I understand the impulse, the cast and crew are locals and you're probably going to socialise with them at some point, while the writer is probably dead, overseas or at the very least interstate, so may as well pick on the guy who isn't nearby.

Which is annoying, because I'm about to blame the 60-years-dead Dylan Thomas for me not enjoying this production. Now, this is a production that had a heap of great reviews all over the place with critical hoo-has, and Dylan Thomas has a fairly solid position in the cultural firmament, as does Milk Wood. The problem is, I can't quite tell why.

I think it's to do with the lack of plot. I like things with plots. It can even have many plots (I really like Robert Altman's films like "Short Cuts" and "Nashville" where huge bunches of plots bunch up against one another), but there must be action where people do something and are changed by it. Milk Wood doesn't do that - instead we get glimpses and portraits, but no actual change taking place. And Dylan Thomas is a hell of a wordsmith, but ... fine words only get you so far. It can't cover for a lack of action.

Anyway, that's me, and that's my blockage on this.

Which is a pity, becuase I do greatly esteem the cast and crew of this production, and in many ways they're doing superlative work here. Duncan Driver's melifulous tones make even the most rambling Thomas sentance sound intriguing, and the rest of the cast is equally skilled, switching between mutiple roles skillfully, inhabiting various characters heart and soul (yes, Virginina, apparently Peter Holland can do accents other than plummy-English!). Anne Kay's set design is gorgeous, Chris Ellyard's lighting is spectacular (the things that man can do with a small array of bulbs and a bit of smoke astound). There's also very skilful crew work under the guiding eyes of Stage Manager Carmen King and Assistant Stage Manager Darren Cullerne as the various set elements shift around almost silently and invisibly.

And I've written before of how much I love Duncan Ley's work as a director - and this is a visually fascinating production, that gives all these elements their space to play.

But the fact remains - I kinda left the whole experience wondering "what's the point of all this?" If it 's a reasonable portrayal of small-time-life in a Welsh Fishing Village, all I can say is I'm glad I don't live in a Welsh Fishing Village

(incidentally, if you loved this and you want to tell me why I'm wrong, I do have a comments field)

Friday, 12 April 2013

Eurobeat, Supa Productions

Let's get the serious bitching out of the way first ... the program states that "Eurobeat" originated at the Edinburgh Festival in 1993 - however, my online research suggests it was 2003, which makes far more sense as the Bosnian war for Independence ended in 1995, and the Coors first album also came out in 1995 (both referenced in the script in ways that seem likely to have been permanently there).  So, Supa President, I expect a full apology and a complementary Tim Tam, okay?


Eurovision is a love-it-or-hate-it-or-possibly-love-to-make-fun-of-it annual event that many Australians take dear to their heart. The pure daggyness of it all does seem to resonate in our hearts, with some bubbly dance pop, over-intense performances, very dubious Television Presenting skills and blatant padding during the voting all combining to deliver an annual dose of fun. Eurobeat is a 50% parody 50% tribute to Eurovision, with 15 acts performing representing various countries, and the audience getting to pick the winner - with the byplay of hosts Sergei (who reacts to the entire affair by getting increasingly drunk throughout the evening) and Boyka (who smiles a lot and attempts to keep things on track). A fairly busy cast of 19 bounce between various outfits performing double-triple-quadruple duties as representatives of multiple countries, and the show ends with the audience favourite number getting a reprise.

Inevitably, some of the songs are stronger than others - the spoofs are at least nicely varied between parodying the nationality, parodying the genre, parodying a particular performer from that country and just making a lot of sex jokes. Jordan Kelly's choreography particularly shines here - it's nice to see dance that is truly funny and creative - cheesy as hell in many places, but entertainingly so (even managing to choreograph a giant strawberry at one point). And even the more blah numbers only last around 3 minutes, there's always a new song around the corner.

Of the performances, local light-entertainment phenomenon  (and previous WILI winner) Lachlan Ruffy shines as the sleazy, dopey and somewhat argumentative Sergei, garnering a ridiculous number of laughs. Sarah Golding's Boyka is similarly hilarious (and similarly dopey), while delivering the bulk of the malopropisms and a truly gorgeous "I'm Sarajevo, Taste Me" - both give the show whatever throughline it has and keep the evening tight, together and on track.

I also have to give a hoy to the other WILI winner in the cast, Max Gambale - who shines in his three numbers, as the remarkably-physically-inept German entry, as an increasingly-bothered-by-the-rest-of-his-group Estonian, and as one of Norway's impressive bunch of Vikings. Also deserving an individual mention is Eliza Shepherd, who's hilarious both as the completely out-of-her-tree Iceland entry and the not-at-all-sublty-lyric-ed Ukranian. Cameron Gill's Irish entry is a masterpiece of overly-dramatic looks, posing, intensity and surviving-the-fog-machine (although his invitation to sing along does lead me to remember that my Irish accent always comes out sounding Pirate). And Tim Stiles is a charming delight in four different nationalities (most of which do have the same accent, but ... meh).

I also need to give a shoutout to the fine Lichtenstein dancers for one truly impressive display of gobsmacking movement, and to the female crew member, either Temyka or Rachel, who gives Sergei one wonderfully dirty look.

It's nice to see another first time director in Canberra (I've noticed the musical companies seem a bit more willing to shake things up than the play companies locally - I'm not sure why, but it's good). Emma Tattum shows a tight hand on a show that could easily get overly-self-indulgent or turn into a concert, and that's appreciated (though I think the reading of the votes is a bit of a dead spot, I'm not entrirely sure there's anything you can do with that beyond cutting it - I must admit I'm a "turn it off at half time and look up the results online" person for Eurovision). I'm not entirely sure how the musical side of things are handled - whether everybody's performing to a backing tape or whether Emma White is going wild on a keyboard backstage, but either way, the backing sorta falls into the category of "adequate to the task" rather than "greatest use of music ever".

Anyway, the key word to this show is "Fun". It's a show where the audience gets to have a great time without having to consider anything much deeper than "do I want to taste Sarajevo or bang Ukraine"?