Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Witches of Eastwick, Supa, ANU Arts Centre

John Dempsey and Dana P. Rowe's musical of John Updike's novel (via the George Miller-directed film) was a late period Cameron Mackintosh production (he's only produced one new show since, the stage version of "Mary Poppins", co-produced with Disney). It's an odd piece in may ways - a cross-breed between the English mega-musical with big power ballad sings and spectacular effects and the American history of musical comedy with jokes and bouncy chorus numbers.

In Supa's production, it plays largely as a vehicle for five of the leads - the three titular witches,  with Louiza Blomfield suitably earth-mothery as Alexandra, Vanessa de Jager all fluttery nerves as Sukie, and Kelly Roberts acidly sarcastic as Jane; plus Jarrad West as the darkly compelling man they conjour into town, Daryl Van Horne and Michelle Klemke as the interfering gossipy busybody Felicia who acts as their nemesis. All are cast to perfection - the three witches in particular harmonise gorgeously under Rose Shorney's musical direction. The chorus makes a good collective, too, on numbers like "Dirty Laundry" (although I do think some of the dancing comes on a bit as "we need dancing here" rather than anything particuarly expressing plot or character).

If the material starts to derail shortly after halftime, it's largely the material that's at fault - the three witches lose their individual personalities and become an unidentified clump, the show really misses Klemke after she leaves, plus the plot developments come a bit too fast and unclearly motivated. But the company remains game for it and rides out the messier plotting before a big female empowerment ballad finale (with unfortunately cliche-ridden lyrics).

Production-value wise, this is a pretty reasonable production. I quibble with the costumes for two of the trio at the end of Act One (I know it's a challenge to stick a flying harness under a big flowing dress, but they've managed it for Kelly Roberts so the other two are entitled to something a bit better too). Shorney's orchestra is as solid a combo as one could wish for.

In short, this is a fun, lush evening out with five great cast members at the top of their game and a delightful ensemble supporting.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

For departed heroes.

In the last month, three theatre-related people I know have passed away. Two of them I knew well, and I'll memorialise them (I didn't know Jasan Savage well, so I feel inadequate in memorialising him.)

James Waites took his last swim at Coogee Beach on 12/2/2014. I met him only a year ago, though I'd been reading his work much longer than that. I read his contentious run of reviews on the Sydney Morning Herald and The Bulletin, and I started reading his intermittent but fascinating writings on jameswaites.com, and occasionally entering into the brawling in the comments. It was one such contact in the comments where I mentioned I wouldn't be able to see the sold-out Canberra season of "The Secret River" ... where James kindly contacted me and offered me a ticket if I was prepared to host him for a night. I did, we saw it, the review is on this site for anybody who cares to read it ... and we had extensive conversations about theatre, about life, about what he'd seen and experienced, about the world he'd lived through, his current work recording interviews for the National Library, about his involvement with Mardi Gras and about, inevitably, his health problems. I later got a chance to drop round his place in Surry Hills a few times, and to host him again for the July production of "Hipbone Sicking Out". He mattered hugely to me.

NaonĂ© Carrel I'd known for over 7 years. It probably comes as no surprise to readers of the blog that, yes, I do have an association with Canberra Repertory. And NaonĂ© is a key reason why that association went from "vaguely liking their shows and appearing on stage finally in one of them" to "ending up doing all kinds of things with them from crewing to front of house to a brief run of set building". She spread the invitation gratefully and made it impossible for me to consider anywhere else my natural Canberra Theatre home. She engaged, she cajoled, she occasionally micromanaged but she cared deeply and fiercely. Losing her is a loss that will undoubtedly be shared by many.

Once in Royal Davids City, Belvoir

Michael Gow's latest play returns to the autobiographical strain that he's used with "Furious" and "Toy Symphony", though this time he's renamed his protagonist and turned the anger down a little. An exploration of grief, of how and why we tell stories, of Brechtian epic-theatre and of simple moments of compassion, it's an intriguing 100 minutes, though not, as it currently stands, completely satisfying.

The play is very dependant on the lead performance by Brendan Cowell, and I found him a little bit ... disengaging here. Much of the play is his extensive rants on theatre and politics, and this would appear to require a more full-blooded performance than what Cowell serves up. He's sardonic and witty as the dialogue requires, but a bit more heat would have helped an interesting collection of ideas turn into something more emotionally engaging.

The rest of the cast appears in what amounts to brief cameos. Helen Morse as Cowell's mother has fire and energy in her early performances, but then is confined to bed in a coma and can offer nothing more. Tara Morice is wonderfully entitled as a private school teacher who insists "socialism doesn't matter any more", but ... again, her character disappears shortly afterwards.

In short, I felt like I was offered appetisers and I wanted a full meal from this one.