by the bridge of San Luis Rey
Brink Production t9-24 July Space Theatre
Director Chris Drummond
Playwright Phillip Kavanagh
Music Directors Slava & Leonard Grigoryan
Thornton Wilder’s novel in which a bridge collapses, sending five people to their deaths, has made an impact far greater than the slim volume might seem to warrant. From the beginning of the story the question is asked: ‘why them, why not me?’ leading to the greater question, ‘what is our life really worth?’ The playwright Phillip Kavanagh has taken this novel and provided the performers with a script as subtle and savage, as humorous and tragic as anyone could wish.
As the curtain opens we see a formidable woman, bathed in a blue light, poised as though a Madonna in a convent garden grotto, two figures on either side, subsidiary saints. However La Perichole, portrayed with flawless virtuosity by Paul Capsis is not the virgin mother. Nor are the twins, Manuel and Esteban, saints, but acolytes to the singer and actress La Perichole as she begins to weave her story and create the characters, in harmony with their music.
As with all successful tragedies there is humour, enough to initially lull the audience into complacency, until the final realisation that the five characters, Marquesa de Montemayor, her maid Pepita, Uncle Pio, La Perichole’s son Don Jaime, and her lover Esteban, had fallen from the broken bridge and now rest, in five coffins, in the cathedral. awaiting burial
That so much could be conveyed in such a simple stage setting with three performers can be attributed to the excellence of every aspect of this production. Paul Capsis as La Perichole is magnificent, Slava Grigoryan and Manus Noble, as the twins who play their guitars in accompanying songs, or underscoring the drama of the text, are not just musicians, but an integral part of the play.
Chosen, arranged or composed by Slava and Leonard Grigoryan the music reflects the flavour of South America The stage setting, sparse and effective, and the lighting are exactly right. St Rose of Lima’s rose petals descending from heaven, surreal, and a foil to the Marquesa who is sometimes hungover and ‘not herself, you must understand’ in the mornings. Her desperate letters to an unloving daughter in Spain coming to be regarded as literary gems; Pepita longing for the love and acceptance by the Abbess who had raised her as an orphan, yet too proud to respond to the Abbess’ greeting. Uncle Pio spurned, then accepted as an educator to Don Jaime; all redolent of the complexities of lives and relationships.
And the answer to those questions? It is all in the final lines. of the script, Go and hear them for yourself.
* image by Chris Herzfelt
Max Savage, Ross McHenry & Josh Baldwin
Ern-Australia’s Greatest Hoax
The story of the Ern Malley hoax played on Max Harris here in Adelaide by disgruntled Army poets is one I grew up with, not that I was around at the time! Thus the fact that a much younger bunch of musicians plus master drummer and artist Josh Baldwin were presenting a new take on the saga made this a must see.
The programme notes state that Max Savage, composer of all the music, was “inspired” by the story, leading to the question as to whether it really had anything to do with Ern Malley at all. This is a question that, now having seen the show, remains unanswered! Perhaps this is a hoax within a hoax, we may never know.
But that aside, it was a great show. The fact that Josh Baldwin got out from behind the drums to show off his other right of stage confronted by a very large canvass that over the course of the show he filled with rather fine painting. This sparse landscape evoked the paintings of Sidney Nolan’s take on the affair, rather than Arthur Boyd’s. In the setting of the Ern Malley affair, this juxtaposition of art and loud music made real sense. More than that it added depth and is, of course, a first.
Co presenter, bassist Ross McHenry, cobbled together a rather fine bunch of local jazz musicians including the ever brilliant Adam Page on soprano sax, guitarist Django Rowe, violinist Julian Ferraretto, Brenton Foster on pianos and Steve Neville on drums. With Max at the helm, limbs flailing in every direction, prancing menacingly about the stage and sometimes in the face of some poor musician, it was a powerful tour de force. The only downside was the sound mix which meant that most of Max’s vocals were largely indecipherable. Maybe if the audience could have heard all the lyrics the dilemma referred to above could have been resolved.
That said this Frank Ford commission was well worth the investment.
This show, written and partially narrated by RocKwiz’s Brian Nankervis (and looking very much like Don Dunstan), features vocalist, flugelhornist Vince Jones covering a range of protest songs.
The opener was certainly appropriate, the classic “Strange Fruit” made famous by Billie Holiday in the 1940’s and suited Jones jazz background to a tee. But from that point the show was a mixed success. The basic problem flows from the fact that Jones is a jazz singer of a particular style and in his field he can be brilliant, but this was not his field. Songs like John Lennon’s idealist “Imagine” have nothing to jazz and thus Jones rendering didn’t really gel. The same applies to other songs including John Schumann’s “I Was Only 19”, Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”, Pink’s “Dear Mr President” and in particular Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A Changing”. This was amplified by the tempo of all the songs, it varied little, although it suited Jones delivery. His rendition of Horace Silver’s rather obscure 1971 album track “Old Mother Nature Calls” fares better, although I suspect on one in attendance had heard this before. Also successful and full of meaning was Kev Carmody’s “Thou Shall Not Steal” and Archie Roach’s “Took The Children Away”
Nankervis’s narration was as one would expect, very professional and all showbiz. Thus confusion when Jones introduced several songs in his own quiet way, nothing wrong with that in itself, but it meant the show felt disjointed. This was amplified when in the middle portion of the show Jones introduced a few of his own tunes, which few would know and the impact of the songs was therefore lacking. There are many other songs that could have been included and would have enhanced the show’s power.
Behind all this was the backing band, a very classy bunch of jazzers, led by musical director Matt McMahon on piano and very ably supported by the Hauptmann brothers, Ben and James on guitar and drums and John Mackie on sax. Sadly they were not given much room to stretch out and the programme would have benefitted from hearing far more from them. In particular, Mackie’s solos, although brief, were a highlight.
The show concluded with Pete Seeger’s 1949 song “If I Had A Hammer”. Fine, if Jones had stuck to Seeger’s original lyrics. He didn’t. Seeger wrote about warning of danger, love and that’s about it, no mention, for example of nuclear disarmament, among the many topics that Jones added and which did not exist in 1949.
There’s a good show in here, it just needs some fine tuning. Perhaps two vocalists, the second being better suited to different tempos and non-jazz based songs.
We’ll Always Have PARIS Arts Theatre 17-26 June
Adelaide Repertory Theatre
Director Norm Caddick
Place three English women of ‘a certain age’ in Paris, and, with the help of a French actor/plumber, pit them against a formidable French landlady. Anything could happen.
The three women, Anna (Linda LeCornu), Nancy (Deb Walsh) and Raquel (Sue Wylie) are in the city of romance and culture, looking to change their humdrum English lives and to reinvent themselves. Charlot (Peter Davies) who seems to be constantly in demand to fix something in the bathroom, aids and abets them, at the same time dealing with his own disappointments in life. Madame Boussiron (Vicky Horwood) seems to have no agenda apart from expressing her total disdain for these foreigners who are ruining her city, while aiding the economy.
It is a recipe that could have descended into cliches and stereotypes, but given a script by Jill Hymen, that sparkles and tears at the heartstrings in turn, and a team of accomplished actors, the play zings along, drawing laughs from the audience. The scene where the three English women play French monopoly is hilarious. With the understanding of the women’s earlier lives the audience is drawn, to empathy and awareness that each is slaying a dragon or two, as they look to Paris for redemption. Paris, as exemplified in the music, does not let them down, and the ending is satisfactory, even if a little too neat. But c’est la vie. The director, Norm Caddick and all the production crew are to be congratulated. The set worked well, costumes were great, and Charlot was given the opportunity through music by Lindsay Dunn to show there was more to him than plumbing.
I tend to judge the success of a play by the sound of the audience as they leave. Last night the sounds were of laughter, a happy buzz and general good will. It was an evening that took us away from the worries of everyday life, Covid, vaccination blues and life’s vicissitudes. Highly recommended!
Mother Archer’s Cabaret for Dark Times Adelaide Cabaret Festival
14 June 2021 Playhouse
Robyn Archer declared during this great show, “next Friday I will be 73!” However, it was very apparent that the years have in no way dimmed her capacity to produce a brilliant performance of a very cleverly themed programme. None of her abilities have been lessened and she possesses a voice that suits her very varied choice of material.
Archer was backed by the piano of Gareth Chin, who was meant to be the accordionist if her regular couldn’t escape Victoria in time, until musical director pianist, Michael Morley came down with the flu. Luckily regular accordionist George Butrumlis, did manage to escape Melbourne to get here, and was thus able to fulfil his regular role on the accordion.
Dark times indeed. Over the course of the programme, she managed to tackle a number of themes including; whiskey, love, lost love, murder, the depression, pandemic, financial crash, politics and even the need to eat, all held together with by an equally eclectic bunch of songs, poetry from Bertolt Brecht and, of course, some humour.
There were many musical highlights, WC Fields’ “The Fatal Glass Of Whisky”, her own satirical county song and brilliantly titled “An Insect On The Windscreen Of My Heart”, the very dark “Monsieur William”, a couple of depression songs, “Buddy Can Spare Me A Dime” and “One Meat Ball” with the penultimate song being Noel Coward’s jaunty little ditty, “There Are Bad Times Just Around The Corner”
Less successful, but marginally, were the classical songs from the likes of Handel and Gibbons in the slower middle portion of the programme, falling a little flat. Despite this, the show was brilliantly put together, and made it clear that Archer has lost none of the skills and class that make her such a highly regarded performer and one of the best.
CONCERT – ROMANTIC TREASURES
Kegelstatt Ensemble: Rachel Beesley, Ben Dollman, Anna Webb & Kim Worley
6th June 2021
The Burnside Ballroom is a good venue for Chamber Music, a clear acoustic, enough space to ensure unhindered visibility and not too big for spoken introductions. The Ensemble chose to sit at floor level to increase the intimacy and their informative remarks made the audience feel part of the performance.
The playing was thoughtful, too, the shape of the phrasing, the interplay of voices and their consciousness of each part made for very compelling listening. One has the feeling that the Kegelstatt Ensemble, in whatever formation, is a group of friends. The ideal set up for a genre that started out as just this. On this occasion all instruments were fitted with gut strings to more faithfully reproduce the sound of the era; and it was a very mellow sound.
It was a demanding program! The lengthy, very romantic String Quartet no 1 in G minor by Emilie Mayer opened the concert and we were immediately plunged into the German Romantic era of the 19th century. This composer was well known in her day and had Symphonies and Chamber Music pieces performed during her lifetime, then she was forgotten and has only recently been rediscovered. She must have been familiar with contemporary composers and there were shades of Schumann in the 1st movement and Mendelssohn in the last. The cello had a prominent part and revelled in the mellow sound of the gut strings! The two violins had beautiful duets, especially in the last movement and blended perfectly. The viola was rather hidden but a necessary part of the harmonies. The music was intense and driven with only a few sections of relaxation, it was quite overwhelming. Maybe for the composer, too; it was written as a dedication to her father who had committed suicide – an outpouring of feelings.
In the more light-hearted Dvorak Trio, the viola played a pivotal part. The singing, sustained bassline in the first and third movements, organ-like chordal passages with the 2nd violin in the 4th and partaking in the very Dvorak-like melody and harmony of the 2nd. The two violins played the melodies together, their nuances and tone blending beautifully. Dvorak wrote this piece for his housemates – true “Kammermusik”. He called it “Drobnosti” Miniatures for two violins & viola; Dvorak played the viola part and I am sure his friends were delighted to play it with him!
After the interval, we were treated to Schubert’s famous “Rosamunde” Quartet. The writing is very transparent, a real contrast to the thick harmonies of the Mayer Quartet. One could hear Schubert’s song writing techniques with the 2nd violin embroidering the melodies like the right hand of the piano accompaniments! And the singing themes and insistent bass figures. One sensed the detailed rehearsal work of the quartet, the weaving of the voices, continuing one another’s themes, subtle changes of tempo and mood and always bringing forth the important voice. The key of A minor sets the melancholic mood of the first movement which is brightened a little by the 2nd violin’s introduction of the 2nd subject. The reflective theme of the 2nd movement is from Schubert’s incidental music to Rosamunde written five years earlier; the two reflective pauses imbue the sadness with some hope. The graceful Minuet & Trio lift the mood and the energetic final movement is reminiscent of Hungarian folk music. All these aspects were captured well by this quartet and the audience was left with the feeling of pleasure and satisfaction.
BLUE STOCKINGS Red Phoenix Theatre
Holden Street Theatres 20-29 May
Written by Jessica Swale
Directed by Libby Drake
Education or Domestic Bliss? You can’t have both!
The message comes through loudly and clearly. ‘Men don’t want to marry educated women, they want quiet wives who will be obedient and good mothers.’
In 1897 entry to a university was almost impossible for women; nor could a woman hope to actually graduate even if her results exceeded that of her fellow male students. So, no professional recognition and no husband. Yet some persisted in following their dream. Blue Stockings is their story.
Shocking as this seems to us today, the scenes, set out as vignettes, portraying the challenges and obstacles placed before any woman who had the temerity to aspire to higher intellectual activities and achievements, brought to light the misogyny, ignorance, class snobbery, felt by many people. Nor was it just men who feared that an educated woman would bring the country to ruin. Some women saw it as a betrayal of their sex.
Red Phoenix Theatre has called on a large cast to recreate this period in our history. It begins with Dr Henry Maudsley (Brant Eustice) explaining that a woman’s vital organs could not accommodate both learning and reproduction, the latter being her main function in life. ‘It must be allowed that women do not and cannot stand on the same level as men’. The four young women, and the few academics who champion their cause, do not spend time worrying about their vital organs, but set to their study with enthusiasm, and courage.
There are moments of drama and humour, altruism and vitriolic hate speech. And it is fascinating that this play is being performed at a time when the treatment of women in the work place and professions has been found wanting. There have been changes since that time, but obviously not enough. Within the story there is romance, heartbreak, the need to balance family duty against the desire for an education, all played out by four wonderful young woman. I am reluctant to single out performances from this large cast, as it was uniformly excellent.
The cast manage the scene changes, and each scene is given a title written on a blackboard (remember those?) with chalk, in old-fashioned cursive writing. This allows the audience to follow the stages during the first year at Girton College, and together with the costumes, recreates this earlier time. I did wonder if the male Cambridge students had spoken with a refined English accent, would this have had a stronger effect? But judging from comments from the first night audience, Blue Stockings lived up to the high standard that we have come to expect from Red Phoenix Theatre. Well worth seeing.
ADELAIDE WIND ORCHESTRA
Leunig’s Prayer Book
St. Peter’s Girls School Arts Centre
Friday April 16
A new year in a new location and a programme of new music. Thus the Adelaide Wind Orchestra ( AWO ) came out of hiding after the obligatory banishment of the last twelve months, with a decided bang. Jodie Blackshaw’s Symphony No 1 was inspired by four prayers written by Australian poet Michel Leunig celebrating the four seasons, beginning with Summer (bushfires, scorching heat). The explosive opening movement certainly conveyed the atmosphere, however without recourse to the text of the prayers it was not always easy throughout the work to identify the composer’s actual intent. Of course, the auditorium being plunged into darkness as the concert began was unfortunate, as reference to the programme during a concert is useful to keep track of proceedings, especially when new music is involved.
The four movements each displayed a unique character, faithfully interpreted by AWO and conductor David John Lang ranging from the opening fire and brimstone to more reflective and introspective resonance before the final celebration dance displaying echos of Malcolm Arnold. However without the words, I feel that the full impact of the work was some what diminished.
As is to be expected with a work of this nature considerable demands were made on many members of the band as solos sprang up all over the place and all were handled with surety and accuracy. Trombone, Soprano Sax. and Flute were of particular note! It’s been said before but the overall quality of playing within AWO is consistently outstanding.
The sorbet of the concert came from Anne Cawrse who provided an arrangement of a section of her Requiem at the request of D J L especially for this concert now entitled Love is Born. A gentle work with reduced forces, the playing was more exposed, but lacked nothing in confidence. Sustained chords between horns and trombones were beautifully blended producing a warmth of sound not easily achieved.
The major work, in every sense of the word(s), came after interval with the World Premiere of Martin Cheney’s Symphony for Wind Orchestra –TANGENT. An abstract of five movements providing a clearly defined interpretation of the word as we were taken hither and yon from one idea to another. Martin clearly has a well established sense of humour eloquently displayed in the third movement where the same melodic fragment was tossed about and caught with reckless abandon by this very talented band. Similarly, the staccato “shot chords” that came in the fourth movement were so very tight and together that they sounded as one player. While there were hints of Walton’s Facade and Graeme Koehne’s influence, that was no bad thing, as one would need to be deaf and emotionally insensitive not to be aware of one’s predecessors but to take and mould and personalise is the achievement and M C has done this.TANGENT deserves a wider audience.
It was a pleasure to once again hear the quality of playing for which AWO is renowned. Their sense of ensemble and intonation of the highest order at all times and with the very clear and incisive conducting from DJ L, there is more to come this year both at Elder Hall and in this their new and very agreeable home ( apart from the air-con !) at St. Peter’s Girls School.
Elder Hall April 18 6.00pm
Who would have thought that a respectable violin could behave like that?
Jazz violinist, supported by guitarist Ton Kneebone, double bass player Shireen Khemlani and vocalist Elizabeth McCall, had the audience all hyped up and loud in its applause by the end of the first number, Raggin’ the Scale, which Julian introduced as a number to help the musicians steady their nerves. The excitement and applause just got louder as the evening progressed, and if there had been nerves (not that we believed that for a moment) there was no sign of them at any stage.
The first set concluded with Elizabeth McCall singing some favourites, including Can’t help loving that Man, which was sung with great feeling, possibly because her man was playing the violin right next to her.
The second set got off to a fine start with Skip it and Centro Habana by the three instrumentalists, and concluded with three numbers by Elizabeth McCall beginning with the Bossa Nova Dindi and then flowed into a duet with Julian, Let’s call the whole thing off’ (what happened to loving that man?) and an encore Moon River.
One of the best parts of the concert was Julian’s introduction to each number as he explained something of the history of Jazz violin playing, even before Grapelli. It was a revelation to see just what Julian could do with his violin. At times it almost talked! Then there was the party trick, playing all the strings of the violin at once.
All four musicians performed to a very high standard, while at the same time they seemed to be having as much fun as the audience – surely is the mark of a great jazz concert. If you weren’t there you missed a great evening.
This concert was in support of 5mbs and proved to be a fitting affirmation that 5mbs stands for Fine Music be it classical or Jazz.