Friday, 20 June 2014

Showtune, Canberra Rep

Rep's regular variety performances have been a popular favourite for the better part of 40 years - throwing a range of performers and sketches together for spontaneous mixed performances with verve and enthusiasm. Variety has been slipping away as a popular art form, however (largely a nostalgia thing - the last time there was a big wave of variety on TV was the 70s and early 80s), and this season, Rep's not quite delivering variety - instead, it's a tribute revue to Jerry Herman, that most showbizzy of composers.

There's still a wide variety of numbers - from jazzy sass to heart-rending-pathos to big chorus numbers. With a cast of eleven (well, twelve if you include musical director and accompanist Leisa Keen, who sings a few solos and joins in on the chorus numbers). The show as curated by Paul Gilger parades through around 38 songs over ten sequences of songs, with clever thematic combinations forming connections across different shows from different eras, including letting songs from one show become rebuttals to the sexist assumptions of songs from another era.

There's a lot of high points - Sarah Hull conquers with a whammo "Wherever He Ain't"; there's a lovely blending of two obscure songs from "Dear World", "And I was Beautiful" and "Kiss Her Now" shared between Michael Moore and Janelle McMenamin; Moore also gets to do his Louis Armstrong impersonation for "Hello Dolly"; Keen's delivery of "Time Heals Everything" is soulful and strong; and McLenamin and Liz DeToth get a chunk of good laughs with the classic "Bosom Buddies". There's a lot of wit in Jordan Kelly's staging (in particular, the act two opener "Just Go to the Movies") and the show flows delightfully throughout.

Unfortunately, this still remains a bit of an uneven show that isn't as tight as it might be - I don't know whether first night nerves were hitting heavily or whether the cast were in uncomfortable spots in their vocal range for a few songs, and a couple of dance routines were spottier than they should have been. But this is thoroughly decent light entertainment, showing off talented performers skillfully - and that's always welcome.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Brothers Wreck, Belvoir

Belvoir's had an on-and-off relationship with indigenous drama - some strong hits ("Radiance", "Up The Road", "Namatjira","The Sapphires") and a few less so (I didn't think much of "Jack Charles vs The Crown" or "Welcome To Broome", for example). At its strongest, Belvoir's used indigenous performers in wide-ranging plays, and brought them into the ensemble strongly.

"Brothers Wreck" is ... perhaps a little too middle-of-the-road as it goes. There's some strength and heartfelt work here, and it's obviously passionate about the issue of suicide among indigenous youth, and the ways through it with family and support network. But there's a slight sense that vital details that would make this an individual story rather than a "typical one" are missing.

The story of Ruben (Hunter Page-Lochard) whose brother has just committed suicide in the opening scene, is told in a series of scenes as he attempts to push away from everybody's attempts to engage and support him. His court-mandated counselling sessions with David (Cramer Cain) do come across as a exposition device rather than something really earned (there's virtually no details about whatever crime may have caused a court to order them). It's on stronger ground with the loose bonds of family and friends - cousin-come-sister Adele (Rarriwuy Hick, strong but a little too keen to smile through the pain), her boyfriend Jarrod (Bjorn Stewart, who presents a good solid generous soul) and aunt Petra (Lisa Flanagan, whose late arrival brings a breath of fresh air and realistic tough love into the proceedings).

It's a piece from the heart, but seems about a draft or two away from really flying in all ways. Clearly, Leah Purcell's directed passionately, and the performances are strong and real. And the set evokes the wet hot north wonderfully (even on the verge of winter), all open spaces and dripping windows.

This is a play that some people are going to take to their heart anyway - it's passionate and it's concerned and it's well performed. But I think Jada Alberts script too often goes for the easy route of letting the performances fill in where the script should establish the characters better. It's ... not bad. But it could be better.

Monday, 2 June 2014

8 Gigabytes of Hardcore Pornography, Griffin

It's a simple story. Boy meets girl. Both have issues, and both explore them over the course of the evening. It could be any rom-com ever written.

Except ... in this case, neither particularly want to be honest about themselves with the other person. They want an escape, they want a release... but neither of them are able to get out of their own heads and out of their own way to get to a point where they may actually understand and engage and enjoy another's company. Two people demolished by their own neuroses.

This sounds grim, dire stuff. And in lesser hands than those of writer Declan Greene, director Lee Lewis and actors Steve Rodgers and Andrea Gibbs, this might have been. But instead, this is human, funny stuff - it's unblinking in the face of the characters flaws and unsentimental, yet ultimately something very engaging to the heart and the mind. Staged very simply - two performers, two chairs, a lot of shagpile carpeting and a few vertical blinds, there's nothing to come between us and the characters. Greene's script demands they engage the audience directly, repeatedly, often in extended monologues and rarely in actual conversation with one another - and, even when describing utterly disturbing things, we're still drawn in. 

Yes, the title is utterly a tease - this could be called "Reflections on sad loneliness between two people". But that title doesn't sell tickets, while this probably does. So why not buy one? This plays the street later this month, and it'd be worth catching.