Saturday, 25 March 2017

Renonsense Man, Jimoein, Canberra Comedy Festival, Playhouse, Canberra Theatre.

This is more traditional comedy than Gadsby, for good and for ill. It's just jokes, very much in the same style that Jimoein has been doing for over 20 years around Australia - and he shapes them pretty reasonably and pretty charmingly. If there's no greater topic or greater aim, is that necessarily a problem?

Well, for me, it is a bit. I kinda now feel I have ticked off that "seen Jimoein live" box and I haven't really seen a screamingly good motivation to come back and see him again. He's perfectly reasonable and acceptable, but he doesn't bring anything particularly different to the table. And there is a fair bit of material about his wife which is... just not thought through at all. While, yes, these are "just jokes", he's spending a substantial chunk of the show basically saying he kinda hates his wife but he's not strong enough to separate. Which is kinda pathetic and not in an interesting way.

Look, Jimoein will sell out theatres for another coupla decades with material that will probably be very much like this anyway. I just won't be there again.

Nanette, Hannah Gadsby, Canberra Comedy Festival, Playhouse, Canberra Theatre

There's a point that some stand up comedians reach where they're no longer necessarily funny but you don't mind because they can capture a mood and a thought to tell you about something so interesting that you're drawn in and silently compelled.

Such a show is Hannah Gadsby's "Nanette". It is, as has been noted in the pre-publicity, her retirement-from-standup-comedy show, and, indeed, the last ten minutes contains barely any jokes whatsoever. There's definately a sense of a woman who's worked out how much further she's going to reveal and not reveal, and a letting go of a couple of old grievances (in particular, there's a section where she talks about her mother, a frequent earlier source of both bitterness and comedy, that feels like a new sense of forgiveness has set in - not forgetting the pain, but letting it find its place).

That's not to say this is in any sense a dour evening. There's passion and rage and, yes, there are indeed jokes (and dear god, can Gadsby craft a joke - she knows just where the right word should fit and deploys it instinctively). But to the fucktard in the balcony who asked "where's the comedy" during the last ten minutes, the answer was pretty much "in the preceding 60"- Hannah's leaving comedy behind, and maybe it's time not to pretend everything has to be hilarious. Which, yes, is a strange thing to bring into a comedy festival, but never the less it works.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Mark Colvin's Kidney, Belvoir

I've clearly been out of the elite-person loop. I had, until this play came along, no idea who Mark Colvin is. I used to listen to ABC radio's PM program back in the late eighties and early nineties, but ... well, there's an awful lot of media about these days and when I'm driving, I prefer songs.

Never the less, the story of how he got a kidney transplant is an intriguing one - particularly the details of the woman who donated it, and how she got to know Colvin. Sarah Pierse incarnates Mary-Ellen Field, a rare figure on Australian stages as she's a sympathetic conservative character - smart, perhaps mildly irritable but all-in-all, remarkably strong and determined to do what she views as the right thing.

It's a pity the rest of the play that surrounds her falls a little flat. John Howard as Colvin is quite under-powered - the writing for him is a little thin, but Howard's performance seems frequently so sedate that the central meeting of minds that needs to happen just doesn't.

The remaining supporting cast all play multiple roles - Helen Thompson most noticably as Elle McPherson (the rest of her roles are very throw-away), with Peter Carroll scoring in a range of roels from Field's husband to a disconcerted priest.

David Berthold's direction finds it difficult to find a central flow to the play - the short scenes connected by scene-changes as furniture is re-arranged don't tie together very well (although Vexran Producitons' projection design combines very well with Michael Hankin's set to get rich visuals, they never quite link in clearly to what's going on in the scenes and instead are just a nice visual distraction).

This is a play I really wanted to like but instead was left a little cold - the human connection between the characters, for me, just wasn't there, and while this taps on a couple of hot button issues, in the end everything is left just a little under-explored. So it's a disappointment.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Aladdin, Disney Theatrical, Capitol Theatre

Disney's been doing big-budget stage versions of their animated movies for about twenty years - sorta in compensation after they stole the duo of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken away from Broadway when they wrote the trio of "Little Mermaid", "Beauty and the Beast" and "Aladdin". For various reasons, I've never seen any of them in a full-scale professional production (no, not even "The Lion King"), but ... well, now I have.

In the case of "Aladdin", there's an obvious challenge to be gotten over immediately - how on earth do you replace Robin Williams (not necessarily the first celebrity voice in an animated feature, but certainly the one whose involvement had the most impact on the film, to the point where the finished product includes a vast amount of his ad-libbing). There are other elements as well (two animal sidekicks along with a carpet with considerable personality), but the quicksilver-morphing Genie is the one that has to be gotten right.

Fortunately, with Michael James Scott, they've got it. He's wildly engaging and dominates the stage every moment he's on - while, no, he can't actually change shape, he talks and moves so fast while being just that damn compelling every second he's on stage that you barely notice. The highlight of the show is his eight-minute-or-so "Friend Like Me" that pulls out every stop from shoving the chorus through multiple costume changes and a tap interlude all the way to literal fireworks.

The rest of the show surrounding it doesn't always keep up to the same level. Our two romantic leads, Ainsley Melman and Hiba Elchikhe, are both a little bland, and while an understudying Alex-Gibson Giorgio and a regular-cast Aljin Abella do some good sniveling conspiring and Aladdin's trio-of-friends (who have snuck back in from early drafts of the movie) are a diverting trio of Adam-Jon Fiorentino, Troy Sussman and Robert Tripolino.

The score has all the original movie songs plus two cut Ashman/Menken numbers ( the ballad-ish "Proud of your Boy" which is okay but gets an unnecessary two reprises, and the rollicking "High Adventure" for Aladdin's buddies, which is far more amusing), and a couple more songs by Menken and Chad Beugelin, who also wrote the script - most of which serve only to pad out time. It's a very glitzy show with fabulous costumes, grand sets and some snappy choreography, but it doesn't quite sustain continuous joy the whole way through - it's more stop-starty than perhaps it should be.

With expectations adjusted downwards there's a fair bit to enjoy in this, but it's not top-tier Disney - though the middle of their pack is still pretty solid.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

The Addams Family, The Q

For audiences of my generation, the definitive Addams family is always going to be the one from the two 1990s movies directed by Barry Sonnenfeld with Raul Julia, Anjelica Houston, Christopher Lloyd and Christina Ricci. These took the sitcom setup from the 60s and pushed them into delirious perfection - Gomez and Morticia's relationship with hefty S&M overtones, Wednesday's mordant nature, Fester's joire de vivre ...

Due to the vagaries of international copyright law, the musical isn't based on the film  or the sitcom, it's officially based on the original Charles Addams cartoons. Which may be why it feels slightly tonally off. While these are larger than life figures who should, naturally, sing, there's a really basic problem at the centre of the plot, which is that it's both overly familiar and the wrong plot for these characters. The "child introduces their radical parents to their love interest's conservative parents" plot was reasonably old-hat when "La Cage Aux Folles" did it 30 years ago (the gay angle was the only twist), and it's older now, with the show introducing a truth-telling potion into the mix (again, personality-altering concoctions were considered old hat by Arthur Sullivan when W.S. Gilbert proposed it as a plot in the mid 1880s). And of all members of the family to centre this plot on, why Wednesday? Reducing her to a simple girl-pining-for-a-boy is to screw up a basic element of her personality, and it leaves the show at a big disadvantage.

It's not all bad news. While the script by Rick Elice and Marshall Brickman is, to my mind, both wrong and conventional at a plot level, at an individual joke-level the material has a reasonable amount of wit. The songs by Andrew Lippa never really surpass the original theme tune (here introduced-oh-so-briefly at the beginning of the show then brought back for the curtain calls, and never with the iconic lyrics), but again there are a couple of good jokes in there, and particularly the material for Uncle Fester has a disarming sweetness.

The cast do sterling work with the material they have. Gordon Nicholson has bravado and charisma to spare as Gomez, Lainie Hart brings languid stylish sexiness and a killer singing voice that's been under wraps for way too long as Morticia. Tim Stiles is endearingly weird as Fester, Rachael Thornton is stuck playing the Wednesday that's in the script, but suggests she could bring off a much better-written character by getting massive laughs from the sight of her in a bright yellow dress. Callum Doherty's Pugsley is disconcerting in several ways - he's the only character whose intensity has been turned WAY up from the original material, and from the youngest member of the cast, that feels wildly off. Barbara Denham's Grandma is, again, misconceived at a plot level (instead of being a whimsical potions mistress she's somehow a drug pusher?) but Denham almost pulls it off with a blithe manner. As the visitors, Liam Dowling as the son has no written personality and doesn't add much to that, Joseph McGrail-Bateup has the unenviable job of being the fun-crushing character of the evening (although he does produce one truly epic spit-take), and Deanna Gibbs has a goofy charm as Alice. Nathan Rutups is a great looming presence with various grunts and growls as Lurch.

Costumes by Christine Pawlicki and Barbara Denham are a gorgeous bunch of outfits that do a lot to bring the show whatever life it can have, and Emily Geyer's makeup design, particularly on the chorus-of-ancestors, is top notch. Matthew Webster's orchestra is a bit muddled during the overture but settles down to providing decent support.

So this is wildly inessential material, but with some performances that make this quite watchable anyway.