Jul 22

Kokoda – by Peter Maddern – Star Theatres – 2017 – 4K

ac960f4ccb025268ee2bffe517a39ba9By Tom Eckert

Wandering into the Star Theatre’s space, one is struck by the closeness of the venue. An opera theater on a micro scale, and surprisingly well suited to a one man play.

Kokoda follows the experience of one Private Morris Powell (played by Todd Gray) as he lives through the trials of the Kokoda defence. Burdened with the weight of history and a dialogue laced with undertones of the knowledge of hindsight, Private Powell becomes a representative of the collective ANZAC. A one man play, Private Powell’s insights and commentary summon the ghosts of his brothers in arms and enemies to share the stage with him.

This burden of representing the whole occasionally weighs a touch too heavy on the monologue, leaving the Private’s more individual experiences wanting for gravitas, lost in the whirlwind of historical commentary. So too does the audiences understanding suffer from time to time from the rapid fire ocker accent, which by necessity compromises on diction.

PS04Despite this however, the writing is well paced and sensitive. The script richly evokes the pathos unique to the happy-go-lucky simpleton charm of the Australian larrikin that is so inextricably linked with this time in our history. Thoroughly enjoyable was the wit scattered throughout the play, most evident in quips made in the vernacular of the period simultaneously metaphorical and uncouth, as well as some sharp eyed contemporary political commentary seamlessly inserted.

As well as the writing, kudos must go to the wonderful light touches of sound and light design that subtly and convincingly recreate the environments of Australian summer, jungle and firefight without at any point being overbearing.

Kryztoff Rating:    4K

Jun 16

CABARET FESTIVAL – Pajama Men – 3.5K

indexBy Peter Maddern

This town is littered with the bill posters for stand up comics, especially for the Fringe. Shenoah Allen and Mark Chavez, in Adelaide for the first time, are two Americans who work their magic in tandem, dressed in somewhat plain blue pajamas and non-matching pairs of socks.

Their humour takes us from the cockpit of a plane (where the captain has mislaid the keys), to two TV news presenters, an interview with a strange animal activist and a wonderful card shuffling routine – perhaps the highlight of the hour.

It’s rapid fire, energetic humour with not a punch line missed.

However, the presence of an electric piano and associated pianist does not for cabaret make, so be warned, this is just stand up, very good stand up to be sure but just stand up, pure and simple.

Kryztoff Rating  3.5K

Jun 10


LBBy Peter Maddern

Naomi Price is one of Australia’s leading cabaret performers but armed with a Liverpudlian accent she and her Lady’s Hearts Club band take us back to the start of the 1960s and the Fab Four before they even knew each other. Rolling through the hits that have delighted generations, Lady Beatle tells her story of the fifth Beatle through both yarn and feint of gender that comes to an emotional conclusion.

With Blackbird, Don’t Let Me Down and Lucy in the Sky highlights, Lady Beatle is a stirring walk down memory lane that ends in ostensible displays of audience pleasure that highlight the spread of ages that both this show and the music comfortably traverses.

Kryztoff Rating  4K

May 17

THEATRE – 1984 – Her Majesty’s – 4.5K

unspecifiedBy Peter Maddern

Scarred both mentally and physically by Spain’s civil war and then World War II, George Orwell had but four years to pen his two masterpieces Animal Farm and 1984 before he died as a relatively young man in early 1950. Both of those books tell of the distortions of language and the control over the masses by elites, those with the power wielded without much compunction over those without it, otherwise indistinguishable in look, form or spirit.

Winston Smith (Tom Conway) is gripped by the poison that the world around him is monstrous and that writing about it, his only solace, is both futile as well as likely to accelerate the day they come for him.

This new adaptation created by Robert Icke and Duncan MacMillan and produced by a host of theatrical enterprises including our own State Theatre Company is a visually stunning assault on the senses. Conway is excellent as the troubled but fallible soul swimming helplessly in the murky waters dictated by O’Brien (Terence Crawford with a taut and menacing strut) while Ursula Mills (as Julia) skilfully making her way down the middle road of whether she is Winston’s partner or traitor.

The staging is terrific perhaps highlighted by Tim Reid’s video design where we are allowed access into the intimacies of the bedroom, but  if we are can see them who else may be as well? At times, particularly in the opening scenes voice projection was an issue, leaving the audience to almost sink or swim on picking up the story but none were in any doubt about the white hot events in Room 101.

Often even recycled theatre will mimic events of the day and 1984 is certainly pertinent in a world of fake news, the Trump effect (has 2050 come early?) and social media even if this production was first performed nearly four years ago – an insightful and prescient initiative on a world then forming.

Kryztoff Rating   4.5K

May 05

THEATRE – Private Peaceful – Bakehouse – 5K

By Peter Maddern

History has been reasonably kind to Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, at least in the English speaking parts of the Western world. Less biased observers may well have lumped him in with other butchers of the 20th century such as Stalin and Pol Pot. For amongst his many atrocities it was he who personally signed off on the orders to kill his own men by firing squad; men, well boys often of the likes of Private Peaceful who, overcome with the terrors of trench warfare just couldn’t go on – all in the name of soldier discipline.

Based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo as adapted by Simon Reade, Promise Adelaide presents Ben Francis in Private Peaceful for an all too short season at the Bakehouse. Tommo Peaceful, like Ben, is 17, a lower middle class boy in somewhere England with ordinary adolescent interests – hanging with his brother and eyeing the girl next door. When the recruiters came his brother and he decided to enlist spurred on as much by patriotism in the name of some God who didn’t seem to be doing his job very well and for fear of being branded a coward by the sticky beaks of the village.

It is hard to overstate the quality of Francis’ performance. Eighty voices and characters in 80 minutes with an accent held strong throughout his pangs of love, the pain of injury and the paralysis of fear, throwing himself around a Bakehouse floor every bit as unwelcoming as the trenches he portrays.

This reviewer last saw him as the jazz singer in IT’s Great Gatsby where his notable performances were nonetheless constrained by staged movement. 18 months on, Ben Francis has blossomed and, in his Peaceful, emerged as one of Adelaide’s most talented male actors, of any age, let alone still as a teenager. His is a performance worth cancelling all prior engagements for. A stunning one man debut!

His work displays all the usual gloss of Rob Croser’s formidable stable of young performers and is aided by his direction and his and David Roach’s staging, one that keeps a rollicking pace and the sound cue button of Stephen Dean red hot with action.

After the schmozzle of Long Tan, Promise Adelaide, Francis and Croser just show that it is often not on the biggest stages in this town that the best theatre arrives.

Apr 28

THEATRE – Mr Burns: A Post Electric Play – State Theatre and Belvoir – The Space – 4K

Image by Tony Lewis

Image by Tony Lewis

By Peter Maddern

While a healthy obsession for The Simpsons would be useful going into The Space, a stream of cultural references is not the ambition of Anne Washburn’s play. Rather, it is an examination of where the stories and yarns and memories of our generation would come from should the apocalypse come tomorrow.

Set over three acts, the first takes us to some place in New England where seemingly frivolous recountings of the Simpson’s Cape Fear episode are mixed with the depth of despair that the surrounding reality now grips them with; strangers need to be searched, people are dying in thousands in various random and not so random places across the US and heavily armed gangs can intrude on whatever peace is created at a moment’s notice.

Seven years on in the following act and it seems all original thought has been outsourced to brokers and yet more use of these memories and snatches of a happier past. Finally, seventy years then hence and we have a world that morphs Gilbert & Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore with Monty Burns and all the Springfield clan (or is this Titantic safely on land?)

unspecifiedIt’s loud, it’s funny and it’s clever with director Imara Savage skilfully negotiating each of Washburn’s worlds without sending the whole into the chaos that lurks beyond. She is aided by Mitchell Butel’s supreme Mr Burns that mixes evil and camp all clad in a suit that resembles polished sludge. Brent Hill shines as Matt in the opening scene around the campfire while Esther Hannaford’s Bart contains all his elements of good and bad even if the female form seems a bit of a stretch.

Bold and ambitious and not for anything but a skilled cast and crew Mr Burns: A Post Electric Play poses useful questions about the impact of current pop culture and it’s comparisons with stories that have been previously fed to our generations. The more one is in in tune with such shows and referencing the more this will delight.

Kryztoff Rating   4K

Apr 28

THEATRE – M. Butterfly – St Jude’s Players – 3K

By Peter Maddern

David Henry Hwang’s award winning play follows the life of a French diplomat, Rene Gallimard (James Withrow) and the love affair he pursues with the Chinese homosexual, Song Liling (James Edwards) whilst working for the French embassy in Vietnam that eventually led to his imprisonment for treason. It’s a passion enjoyed for over twenty years, both in the orient as well as back home in Paris.

The play was “inspired by newspaper accounts” but doesn’t purport, so the director John Graham’s notes state, to be a factual record of real events or real people. Much the pity because credulity is severely stretched by the state of ignorance sustained by Withrow’s character on exactly who is enjoying himself with, for this was not evidently a platonic affair. Even in a play interwoven tightly with the absurdities possible in opera (as it is here) and with a focus on cultural stereotypes the whole relationship remains problematic.

Of the two main players James Edwards dominates particularly when his kimono clad tightness is given both life and humanity in the last act; his performance under examination in the French court was perhaps the high point of the show. Withrow toils away in what is easily the most demanding role of the production even if some may not be completely convinced about him being French. Too little is seen of the minor roles, especially Chanelle Le Roux but David Rapkin does well in his solid citizen roles of ambassador and judge while, at the other end of the scale, Kylla Booth indulges in an act of self-harm with an absurd German accent playing Gallimard’s wife, Helga.

When a show like this clicks over into its fourth hour, this reviewer at least reckons some pruning of the script would have been in order. John Graham’s ambitions may have exceeded the resources available to him. Still, when pursuit of love for love’s sake can so blind an otherwise red blooded Frenchman for so long who am I to find my attention distracted by the length of the producton. But, full marks to the St Jude’s team for taking on such a work; if nothing else it shows the aspirations of Adelaide’s local theatre companies remain lofty.

Kryztoff Rating   3K

Apr 24

THEATRE – Before The Party – Independent Theatre – 3.5K

By Peter Maddern

After the all-male casting of IT’s Ross last November, it is perhaps not surprising director Rob Croser has sought to re-establish gender balance in his productions with Rodney Ackland’s take on  this Somerset Maugham short story.

In post WWII Surrey, England, Aubrey Skinner (David Roach) is a few days away from being confirmed as the Conservative Party candidate for the district. What can go wrong as he and his family wait to head off to mix it with the important people at a garden party. Well, for a start his wife, Blanche (Bronwyn Ruciak) is a loose cannon, his middle daughter Kathleen (Laura Antoniazzi) has a loose tongue and there is a Nazi loose in his kitchen. Then, there is his oldest daughter Laura (Madeleine Herd).

You see, Laura refuses to sustain her public displays of mourning (for her dead husband) by preparing to wear pink to the party and she has a boyfriend, David (Will Cox) who is a travelling salesman with links to the black market and seemingly of ‘no fixed abode’.

It’s all a delightful romps as social conventions and constrictions of another era get challenged by the new world after the apocalypse of the years before. Madeleine Herd is the stand out with her committed air of detachment from the introspections of the rest of her family – of the same blood but from another place. Antoniazzi successfully sustains the portrayal of her character’s hideous inadequacies while Ruciak plays hers in an almost unhinged frenzy; perhaps a tad over the top.

Almost typecast in IT productions, David Roach nicely plays another exasperated and exhausted patriarch while Cox breezes in and out as his character requires with his usual talents on full show. Fortunately, some sanity is provided to the household by Nanny (Myra Waddell) and youngest daughter Susan, the excellent Jenna Bezuidenhout.

While full of the warmly received IT gloss for which Rob Croser and David Roach have long been renowned, Before The Party is not exactly their most challenging production of recent years with its messages less poignant than others. But a good night’s entertainment is assured.

Kryztoff Rating  3.5K

Apr 04

THEATRE – Long Tan – Brink – Space – 3K

longtan-900x600By Peter Maddern

Brink Productions has a proud history of producing new and challenging works in big bold styles. Long Tan is another of that ilk with its long narrow stage covered in rubber, impressive steam and smoke effects and an audience wired for sound. Unfortunately it doesn’t work well as theatre.

As repeated one-person shows at Fringe time at Holden Street (and elsewhere) show, less is sometimes more and this year’s offerings of Angel, Eleanor’s Story and The Girl Who Jumped From the Hollywood Sign are most recent examples where great stories are told in a minimalist style.

Verity Laughton’s work would well suit a re-enactment and interview style documentary on the History Channel but in this environment too many characters, too much military jargon and some poor castings make the whole thing somewhat soulless; the only soldier we can develop empathy for is that portrayed mid production by Nic Krieg but unfortunately by that time he is already dead.

Chris Petridis’s lighting is a highlight with Luke Smiles’s soundscape excellent as well. The aforementioned Krieg, Mémé Thorne and Chris Pitman do well but like battles and war themselves much of the others’ characters were lost in the fog.

Kryztoff Rating   3K

Mar 30

THEATRE – The Play That Goes Wrong – Her Majesty’s – 4K

the-play-that-goes-wrong-900-newBy Peter Maddern

Thanks to Agatha Christie and her Miss Maple and Hercule Poirot, for as good as 100 years we seen in theatres and on screens sleuths go about solving murders in the manors and castles of the well off, usually situated in isolated havens that seem to invariably attract bad weather. There characters sustain outward appearances of calm and resilience (at least until they get knocked off) while our heroes go about discerning the minutest of clues that open up the solution to the crimes.

“The Murder at Haversham Manor” by the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society is another in this line with Inspector Carter (Nick Simpson-Deeks) called in to solve the death of Charles Haversham (Darcy Brown). The big difference here is that anything that could go wrong with the production does; I mean the silly fools can’t even get the curtain to open properly at the start of the show.

This Australian production of somewhat of an English classic by three young writers Henrys Lewis and Shields and Jonathan Sayer is a masterpiece of comedy and slapstick. It is not often that the set is as much a star of the show as any of the players but Nigel Hook’s living room and upstairs library pops, burns, collapses and explodes in ways you thought possible only in big budget 3D movies.

The fact that much of the dialogue is hard to discern hardly matters as mayhem quickly descends and crew members get caught  on the stage, sometime helping out and at others just plain dangerous to themselves and others.

It’s all great fun for every age and it’s great seeing an Australian cast so seamlessly pulling off farce on this scale – size and invention – when usually it is the provenance  of our English cousins. But spare a thought for the stage manager who has put the set back together after each show.

Kryztoff Rating   4K

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