ANTHEM FOR A DOOMED YOUTH
Guy Masterson- Bakehouse Theatre February 19 – March 3
Guy Masterson, who has been bringing quality theatre to Adelaide Fringe for many years, is well known to Adelaide audiences. This year he has brought four plays under the umbrella title of Lest We Forget, and each of these plays deal in some way with war. The first of these performances is not a play as such but a selection of war poetry, selected from English, French and German poets. The poems are presented with some sound and lighting effects but the strength of the performance is in the words, and in the brilliant way that Masterson delivers them.
While most people have some idea of the horrors of trench warfare during World War I these poems highlight both the minutiae of dealing with cold, lice, and noise along with the fear, facing death, seeing friends and comrades shot or shelled, left in pieces on the battlefield. Or, they die a slow lingering death, with no hope of recovery.
The story of the first Christmas Eve of the war, when the German and British troops joined in celebrating Christmas in no-mans land introduced humour while demonstrating that these soldiers who had been trying to kill each other were just ordinary men who could have been friends under different circumstances. This piece was not by a poet but by Guy Masterson himself, showing another side to his talents. There were other moments of humour, it was not all heavy doom and gloom. These soldiers had been persuaded that they were saving their country. That made them heroes. Yet when they returned maimed, blind, shell shocked and cynical, that became their reality.
For lovers of wonderful writing delivered by a consummate actor, this performance is one that you would really appreciate. Some of the poets, such as Wilfred Owen and Sassoon are well known. Others less so, and Masterson gives us their story along with their poems.
The other plays in this series are: Mengele, Shell Shock and Between the Crosses all at Bakehouse Theatre.
For those who can remember, Rudd will need no introduction. As leader of Spectrum he was at the forefront of progressive rock in Australia in the 70’s and then with the rather more commercial Ariel. He has continued to perform in various formations ever since and in this performance he is supported by the unusual lineup of electric / acoustic bass and accordion. The man himself has a distinctive guitar sound as he plays fingerstyle, that is no plectrum.
It was an informal show before a devoted audience and all the better for it! There was much banter and background to the songs which this reviewer found riveting. After getting the obligatory “I’ll Be Gone” out the way as an opener, noting that this was a great stripped down version, he suddenly launched into the Beatles “She’s A Woman” in tribute to their influence.
From there it was a succession of selections from the back catalogue, the well known, “Superbody” and the Ariel chart topper, “Jamaican Farewell” (a suicide song, apparently) and the obscure, all presented superbly by the Mike Rudd Trio. With the presence of an accordion, a much maligned instrument, bringing rock classics to life in a trio setting sounds like a big ask, but no problem here, they brought new life into the songs and even managed to perform “I’ll Be Gone” again in a completely different arrangement.
Mike Rudd is a veteran, no question, but that doesn’t mean he’s there simply to wallow in the past, instead he has reinvented it and dressed it in new and colourful clothes.
SAX TO THE MAX
The Spire, Clayton Wesley Uniting Church, Beulah Park
18 & 25 February 4 March
The saxophone is becoming more and more accepted as a versatile instrument, which can feature in classical music as well as jazz. With this in mind four saxophonists, Lindsay Heesom, Kym Gluyas, Sylvan Elhay and Steve Eads played Baroque, with a couple of ‘ring-in’ composers. So with much enthusiasm and no small skill they presented a program that included Handel, Mozart (not quite Baroque, but near enough) and Frescobaldi. The final two items in the first half of the program were the most successful, possibly because Singlee and Gershwin wrote with the saxophone in mind, so that these works made the best use of the instruments. Marilla’s arrangement of Gershwin’s American in Paris, in particular, allowed each player to shine.
After interval the quartet was joined by two young trumpet players, Carly Cameron and Hayden King, and the addition of these instruments added an extra element of enjoyment. This was a concert which allowed people who love to play music share their passion with a very appreciative audience. A very pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
Australian String Quartet
Adelaide Town Hall February 15th 2018
The evening started with a lucid, comprehensive overview of the Brett Dean and Philip Glass Quartets given by the cellist, Sharon Grigoryan. So we were somewhat prepared for the musical experiences that followed and that was helpful as this music, especially Brett Dean’s ‘Eclipse’, is challenging and confronting.
The first piece, Philip Glass’ ‘Mishima’, is drawn from the score written for the film of that name. Each movement is an incident from the film but the music is independent, one doesn’t need to know the titles. The repetitive figures revolving around a few chords are hypnotic, a shifting miasma of sound, the blend and texture so admirably captured by the ASQ. The cello was often independent, weaving a thread through the rippling broken chords with a beautiful ethereal sound. At one point the viola joined the cello in a chorale like passage evocative of higher ideals and the ending with its driving triplets and energetic pulse inspired one to action!. The piece was performed in darkness, only the musicians’ screens showing. At the end of the piece a blue light appeared and set the mood for the brooding opening of ‘Eclipse’. I would have liked more time for the Glass atmosphere to dissipate – but that is a personal thing. We had been told in advance that there would be no break before the second work and the lightening of the stage was a good way of indicating; it also set the mood, as did the stillness of the performers. The continuity was possible thanks to technology – no changing of scores or turning pages.
We knew that this quartet was written as a response to the Tampa incident in 2001 when a Norwegian captain went to the aid of a leaking boat full of refugees in the Indian Ocean and Australian Government denied them entry. This helped understand and appreciate the abstract, discordant and explorative music. The three sections are clearly evident, but as the troubled and despairing first section exploded into the nervous, aggressive second section, the light changed to brilliant red which highlighted not only the mood but also the cello and its repetitive motives. The sounds depicted the screams, the terror, the violence of the sea and the situation. The unanimity of the quartet was admirable, one had the impression the players thought as one. After this churning, turbulent segment the mood calms and the tensions disappear. I expected the lighting to change back to the blue effect – but it didn’t! So we had to calm ourselves aurally not visually! The ending was sombre, questioning – what else can one say. The work has a profound effect on the emotions.
The interval was a time to return to normal and the Mendelssohn Quartet in D major, a favourite of the composer, was a welcome comforter. But no less demanding for the players: the running quavers of the Trio, reminiscent of his youthful “Midsummer night’s Dream” score, the linked semiquaver arpeggios in the first movement and the extreme tempo of the last movement were beautifully executed with lightness and virtuosity. Dale Barltrop’s perfect mastery of the 1st violin part which was like a violin concerto complete with cadenzas. Francesca Hiew competently brought out her solos in the difficult middle region of the instrument and the lovely contrasting semiquavers of the third movement. Stephen King revelled in the rich viola sound, sometimes in unexpected places! Sharon Grigoryan proved cello playing to be as light and effortless as on the smaller instruments. The four players united in an exuberant, dramatic, perfectly coordinated performance that left the audience enthusiastic and optimistic.
MAX RIEBL – THE GREAT PRETENDER
The Studio – German Club 16-18 February
Max Riebl is an established counter tenor who can whip through the most intricate music with consummate ease and a voice as clear and untroubled by excessive vibrato as anyone could wish for. His show began with such a bravura display, which was followed by ‘The Great Pretender’. It is not easy to combine the worlds of pop and classical and for me, while the voice never failed to please, I wondered why he bothered with a Presley hit. Maybe he became bored with being brilliant in the normal counter tenor repertoire? Maybe he wanted to try something different as an alternative artist? I also wondered why he used a microphone, especially when singing with a guitar accompaniment, as his voice was powerful throughout the range, and at times the microphone distorted that sound. Was this because singers of popular music always use a microphone?
Where the pop/classical combination worked really well was in ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ a cheeky and clever marriage of both genres. Purcell’s ‘Cold Song’ from King Arthur, a masterpiece in anybody’s musical language, was the final piece and before that we heard Schubert’s Ave Maria, with a pure line and a voice of crystal clarity.
Max Riebl has a strong stage presence and when relaxed he communicates well with the audience. More personal anecdotes and composers’ backgrounds might smooth the edges between the two music worlds. However I would far rather hear Max Riebl sing Morissey than hear Sting sing John Dowland.
There didn’t seem to be a printed program so I can’t give a name to the guitarist who played two solos and supported Max splendidly. At other times the musical support came from a recorded backing.
LOVE LETTERS TO THE PUBLIC TRANSPORT SYSTEM
Holden Street Theatre 14 February – 1 March
The concept behind this performance is disarmingly simple. We love being told stories; we even love gossip, if we dare admit it; so when a young woman sits on a bus seat and talks to her audience as though they are fellow passengers all partaking in a bit of a natter, one sided as it is, we settle back and enjoy. Molly Taylor draws in her audience beginning with the story of her heartbreak. What follows is a journey through England on public transport, and as the end of this journey brings her happiness for a while, she feels compelled to write to all the drivers who facilitated this journey, in appreciation of their contribution. For fear we may feel that Molly is too centred on self, she tells us other stories of people whose lives are changed while on a bus. It is enough to inspire one to throw away the driver’s licence and head for the nearest bus stop.
Molly Taylor tells her stories with such charm and vivacity that only the most cynical or jaded person would not respond and share with her the joys and disappointments that come her way. We rejoice in her appreciation of the transport network, and feel for her when Northern Rail is the last entity to reply to her letters, she being from North of England and thus feeling this lack of prompt response personally.
Go along and be charmed, spend a delightful hour watching a show that was a sellout at Edinburgh Fringe and will surely be a sell out here as well.
Written and Directed by Henry Naylor
Holden Street Theatres 13 February to 18 March
A writer of political satire visits a war zone and is confronted by the face of suffering. He decides to practise his craft differently. Thus Henry Naylor, who was head writer for Spitting Images and Headcases, wrote his first drama-tragedy, The Collector, in 2014. This was followed by Echoes, and Angel, which have been performed in Adelaide, and finally Borders, the play which he has brought to Holden Street Theatres this year. All of these plays have dealt with aspects of war-torn Middle East, but from a very personal angle.
The essence of good drama is to challenge an audience, and bring people to question and reflect on serious issues as well as to entertain. The challenge to the playwright is to write a play which does just that without being didactic. In this Naylor has succeeded. His approach to theatre is minimalist. He relies on the quality of his writing and direction to allow excellent performances from his actors. The result is compelling and enthralling drama. Credit should also be given to the two co-directors, Michael Cabot and Louise Skanning.
The narrative revolves around two characters, Sebastian Nightingale, (Graham O’Mara) a British photojournalist who begins as a young man wanting to save the world and finishes as a society photographer, with a second wife, keeping up a lifestyle that requires a beautiful home and a rose garden. Nameless, (Avital Lvova) a young woman in worn torn Syria, is an artist who becomes an activist, forced to flee her home and become a refugee. The contrast between these two people using their creative talents in different ways is not a coincidence.
Along with these two characters each actor convincingly portrays others, who flesh out their stories. The lives of Nightingale and Nameless come together at the conclusion of the play under circumstances which are all too familiar to those who follow international news.
Borders scores highly as theatre, in its writing, the quality of the acting and in the way it challenges our complacency. It is highly recommended.
La Bohème Puccini Directed by Mario Bellanova
The Flour Shed, Harts Mill Complex Port Adelaide 8-10 December
Co-Opera Intermezzo Series
This is the fourth opera in Co-Opera’s Intermezzo series, and it does them proud. For this production the singers were prepared, over the course of a year, by Mario Bellanova, and they benefited from his many years experience singing and directing opera in Europe. I have seldom heard Italian sung by non-Italians with such clear diction and obvious deep knowledge of the libretto. Puccini’s music matches every word, every syllable in fact, so while the orchestra and voices are important, equally so are the words.
Being a means to train young singers on the cusp of a professional career the roles were alternated. On the night I was there Grace Bawden sang the role of Mimi, Branko Lovrinov sang Rodolfo and Alexandra Scott sang Musetta, and Daniel Smerdon sang Marcello. Schaunard was sung by James Moffatt, Colline by Daniel Goodburn and the hapless roles of Benoit and Alcindoro were sung by Peter Deane.
The Flour Shed is what is says, a shed, so the production was arranged on a makeshift stage, with the orchestra to one side, and the chorus seated next to them. Co-Opera is well used to performing under such conditions, and the opera lost nothing by being in a theatrically limited venue. The attic where the Bohemians lived and worked, froze in winter, and often went hungry was created with a minimum of props, but they used their space well. Having seen many performances of this opera it was the first time I was not irritated by the antics that begin the final act, and for this I think Mario Bellanova should take a bow.
Norbert Hohl, who was also to sing the tenor role fell ill, and one can imagine how frustrating and disappointing that must have been. Branko Lovrinov took the challenge of extra performances, and apart from some strain in his voice towards the end, he sang with a fine tenor voice, robust and strong, especially in the upper register. He is a singer who has developed wonderfully over the last few years. Grace Bawden seemed slightly tentative at first but soon warmed to the role as Mimi. Her singing of Donde Lieta was outstanding. Alexandra Scott sang and acted Musetta with style, but I would have liked less vibrato. Daniel Smerdon as Marcello completed this quartet of lovers. He created a strong presence on stage, matching the bravado of Rodolfo, as well as reacting to the provocations served by Musetta.
While the first two acts are obviously important they also lay the foundation for the drama and pathos of the final two acts where emotion is heightened, and brought to a climax in the final few bars as Mimi dies, and Rodolfo cries out his despair, augmented by the orchestra. Puccini knew exactly what he was doing. These final two acts were strong and effective. There may have been a dry eye in the audience, but there are many teary ones as well.
All other roles were well served. The small orchestra, conducted by Brian Chatterton, was excellent, and offered great support to the singers. Without any government assistance Co-Opera continues to give singers these opportunities, and to give audiences much pleasure. More strength to their arm!
The Conspirators by Vaclav Havel
Red Phoenix Theatre – Holden Street Theatres November 2-11
Politics is a variation on the theme of the Theatre of the Absurd, as The Conspirators amply demonstrates. Czech writer Vaclav Havel wrote this play at a time when his country was desperate to free itself from the yoke of Soviet Russia. Havel was a key player in the 1989 Velvet Revolution and eventually became president of Czechoslavakia in 1993. The Conspirators was written in 1971, while he was in prison, long before the revolution against Soviet occupation succeeded. It is important to realise this when watching the first act of the play where Machiavellian machinations vie with farce, and the audience is left wondering where it will all lead. During the second act it becomes clear – or does it? The clever twist in the ending surprises, as all the pieces fall into place.
This is the final of a series of political plays produced by Red Phoenix this season. Having seen them all but one of them I was struck by the revelation that in any period of history or any country, politics is reduced to plots, sub plots, betrayal and self-interest between those involved in government or in positions of power. So, who did we have embroiled in plots in The Conspirators? The power struggle was between Head of Joint Chiefs of Staff,Major Offir (Adrian Barnes) State Prosecutor, Dykl (Tony Busch) and the Chief of Police Intelligence, Colonel Moher (Brant Eustice), although all three were cleverly played off against each other by Helga (Emily Branford) who had her own agenda. All of these actors were magnificent, although I’d like to give an extra star to both Brant Eustice and Emily Branford who shone in major roles. There were no weak links in the acting however, even among the smaller roles.
Michael Eustice, as director, made clever use of what is not an easy stage area. The graffiti chalked on the walls, the martial music, the contrasting bright costumes blend to highlight the period in which the action takes place, yet allow colour and light to highlight the satirical nature of much of the text. The Colonel’s two bodyguards were a type of Greek chorus, the maid and secretary (both played by Anna Bampton) moved from flighty, as the maid, to the secretary who hid her role as spy under a bland cloak of efficiency. It was these seemingly small touches which provided the necessary light and shade.
The Conspirators is not an easy work, either for cast or audience, for it has sprung from a chilling reality. As does all worthwhile drama, however, it challenges the audience to ponder, long after the actors have given their final bow.
MEETING POINTS Australian Art Orchestra
OzAsia Festival Space Theatre Saturday 29 September
Featuring new music by Mindy Meng Wang (China), Bae Il Dong (South Korea),Daniel Wilfred (Arnhem Land) Keiichiro Shibuya (Japan),
Where but the OzAsia Festival would you hear a p’ansori singer from South Korea, an aboriginal singer from the stone spear group and a skat singer from Melbourne combine in an extraordinary display of sound colour, improvisation and a marriage of cultures? Bae Il Dong from South Korea, one of the few exponents of the art of p’ansori was a towering figure in his blue kimono and with a voice to match, while Daniel Wilfred from Arnhem Land singing with clarity and a beautiful sound brought thoughts of Gurrumul and the vast outback to mind. Jenny Barnes’s skat complemented the voices of the two men, in Seoul Meets Arnhem Land.
This was the second of three music performances. The first was Cocoon, showcasing the music of Mindy Meng Wang, a Chinese woman now living in Australia, who is an exponent of guzheng,(Chinese Zither) The guzheng is plucked with plectra attached to four fingers of one or both hands. Traditional playing styles use the right hand to pluck notes and the left hand to change the pitch and produce vibrato by pressing the strings. With this distinctly Chinese sound the arrangement and orchestration of Jem Savage brought music reminiscent at times of Chicago Jazz, and at other times medieval town bands. Again, an example of the blending of cultures.
The final piece in this trilogy was Scary Beauty where three songs were performed by Skeleton, an android, with the Australian Art Orchestra. The android, whose face was a neutral mask, was a compelling figure, especially with the lighting of Takayuki Fujimoto. The music combined tape loops, percussion, a string quartet, trumpet, saxophone and bass trombone, with the composer Kelichero Shibuya (Japan) conducting from the piano. This was an example not only of shared culture, but of sharing traditional instruments with electronic sound and technical innovation.
Meeting Points as a whole was curated by Peter Knight, drawing on his background as a composer, performer and a creator of sound installations.
Maestro 3 THE PLANETS
AdYO Sunday 24 September 2017 3.00pm
Adelaide Town Hall
Musical Director and Conductor Keith Crellin set a challenging program and the musicians rose to that challenge with verve, enthusiasm and skill. Beginning with Earth Cry by Peter Sculthorpe, the orchestra was joined by William Barton on the Didgeridoo and the combined sound of this ancient instrument and the orchestra was a reminder of how much we can gain by an equal sharing of cultures.
The second composition by Don Banks, Nexus for Symphony Orchestra and Jazz Quintet brought forth a new partnership, and it worked wonderfully. There, the blend of styles, with the large orchestra, and the more intimate jazz sound in what Don Banks called ‘Third Stream’ Music, resulted in a exciting, provocative perfomance. Brass, woodwind and percussion came into their own!After interval the orchestra played Holst’s The Planets, a well known work which calls for a large orchestra, and instruments ranging from tubular bells to the contrabassoon. Two harps, piano, great opportunities for the wooodwind, brass and percussion to shine all over again, and the final movement augmented by a female choir (Aurora) whose ethereal singing led us from Neptune and the sea to the great beyond.
As the program notes state: Concert repertoire is chosen to provide exhilarating programs for audiences whilst allowing our students to be challenged and given the most rewardng learning and performing experience possible. This was amply demonstrated in this performance. Note should be made, also, of the totally professional and disciplined way in which AdYO presents itself.
Fairweather Space Theatre 23 September 2017
Fairweather presents an skilfully woven performance, in which images, music and narration combine to portray the essence of the painter, Ian Fairweather and his life – a life which he says he would not have chosen. A reclusive man and austere, he was determinedly unrestrained by a society which neither fully accepted nor understood him. His painting, an ‘inner compulsion’, was self-consuming.
The performance of Fairweather as a sum of its parts, demonstrates the strength that comes through combining various theatrical, musical, artistic and technical elements.
Ian Fairweather’s story is written and narrated by Rodney Hall. The text leads us to some understanding of the inner torments and difficulties that the artist endured, from the days of his early childhood, when he was given away by his parents to other members of his family, his travels, his travails, up to his last days on Bribie Island, living as a recluse in the bush, as he painted his best work.
Erik Griswold composed the music, which was played by Zephyr Quartet. They could be called the unofficial resident quartet at Festival Theatre as they often feature in dramatic presentations, and innovative music. Their musicianship and ability to lend themselves to a variety of musical styles is undoubted. The music, reflecting through layers of rhythm, textures and sound, supported the story that was unfolding. Satsuki Odamura joined the Zephyr Quartet playing both the Koto and Bass Koto, giving rhythmic energy and oriental colour. Placing these two elements, text and music, against the wonderful moving images of Glen Henderson, the essence of Ian Fairweather was brought into focus. Henderson is an established artist who can also make excellent use of video and computer techniques. The sometimes beautiful, sometimes stark images enhanced and highlighted the narration and the music.
While Fairweather gave the audience insights into the soul of a very unconventional artist it could have given more indication of his success. He has been exhibited in the Redfern Gallery and Tate in London, National Gallery, Victoria, the National Art Gallery, Canberra and was granted a solo exhibition in the Macquarie Gallery, Sydney in 1949. Sadly, much of his work was destroyed in a fire, but what remains has established him as an important artist. That said, the performance of Fairweather could claim to reflect the character of his paintings.