Sep 01

THEATRE – Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense – Her Majesty’s – 4K

2326E49A6-B95D-714F-05A4827AB8B96CCEBy Peter Maddern

The brilliant PG Wodehouse was a prolific writer of books and plays many of which targeted the more idiotic elements of the English aristocracy. Two of his most popular characters were the somewhat mindless Bernie Wooster and his faithful and cunning valet, Jeeves. Whilst many saw his work as flippant, it is a mark of Wodehouse that his works have influenced so many (for example, his impact on the Monty Python crew is greater than may be ordinarily acknowledged) and his humour still works as many as 100 years on.

That latter observation is fully evident in this delicious new comedy, featuring the aforementioned Wooster (Matthew Carter) and Jeeves (Joseph Chance) along with butler Seppings (Robert Goodale).

Perfect Nonsense, written by Goodale and his brother David (who also directs) is aptly named as it mixes the usual sillies of love trysts, misunderstandings, villains and innocent young women in an amalgam of many Wodehouse works that have their stories pivot around, of all things, a silver cow creamer.

Other than Carter as Wooster, the other two cast members interchange in a variety of characters until such time as they simply run out of options and two roles need to be shared by the same actor simultaneously in one of the many standout scenes.

The acting, comic timing and stage craft is, as one would expect of seasoned British performers, brilliant with full credit to Cater for sustaining, without ere a momentary pause, his air head persona throughout his near on two hours on stage. Chance digs deep with relish some of his more bizarre roles while Goodale delivers the more non-dialogue moments with stunning aplomb.

It is perhaps a sad coincidence that this show hits town just as State Theatre’s very similar story and production of The 39 Steps breaks local box office records. But be advised, if you can handle both, do – delights like these do not happen every week. Or more likely, if you can’t get into The Playhouse you certainly won’t go home with any sense of missing out after revelling in Perfect Nonsense this week.

But both is best.

 

Kryztoff Rating    4K

Aug 24

THEATRE – The 39 Steps – Playhouse – 4.5K

[Image by Shane Reid]

[Image by Shane Reid]

By Peter Maddern

A beautiful young woman is killed in Richard Hannay’s flat and the police think he did it. But he didn’t and just before she died she has told him vital information that may save Britain. Can he stay ahead of the police and the villains what dunnit?

This farcical reworking of John Buchan’s timeless and inspirational thriller is a beauty of comic writing and timing. Jon Halpin rips into Patrick Barlow’s play with a zest, ably supported by all his four member cast and a dedicated set and costume design team that meets every challenge as the plot rollicks along from locale to locale.

Nathan Page is a delight as the straight laced, indefatigable hero Richard Hannay. Anna Steen ensures his various female partners in stopping crime are suitably dissy yet strong willed, while Tim Overton steals the show playing his assortment of other female characters. Charles Meyer is suitably villainous and nasty especially when as the professor.

The focus on extracting as much humour and as many laughs from the material and genre needs to be commended; it reminded me somewhat of the success of the creators of the film Flying High for their concentration on all those terrible Airport movies of the 1970s. No fumble, bumble or double meaning is overlooked for its possibilities, yet in rolling them out they in no way confuse or deflect from keeping the narrative alive and whole.

This is comic theatre at its best, though seating forward is recommended as sometimes vocal projection is marginal for moments set in the middle or back stage areas.

Kryztoff Rating  4.5K

Aug 19

THEATRE – Titus Andronicus – Red Phoenix Theatre – HST – 3.5K

Titus and the Young Lucius - image by Richard Parkhill.

Titus and the Young Lucius – image by Richard Parkhill.

By Peter Maddern

As one his earliest works, it is not clear in the slaughterfest that is Titus Andronicus whether Shakespeare was just playing to the blood lusts of his audiences or also trying out a few ideas as practice for his more nuanced tragedies to come.

Back from the war, the great soldier Titus (Brant Eustice) knocks off one of his captured Goths only to find the kid’s mother, Tamora (Rachel Burfield), marries the next emperor, Saturninus (Matt Houston) and sets out to square the ledger with some unspeakable acts against Titus’ family, particularly the beautiful Lavinia (Anna Bampton).

Revenge of course is a dish best served cold and when Titus gets his chance the servings are enormous. In this play it seems there are more deaths scored by the knife than there are runs off the bat by Australian batsmen on the spinning decks of Sri Lanka and director Michael Eustice revels in the opportunities they present.

Brant Eustice bears some resemblances to the great Shakespearian actor Kenneth Branagh as to both looks and talent and his slightly unhinged Titus successfully mixes bombast and badness in appropriate quantities. Matt Houston’s Saturninus is aptly flawed, nearly pathetic as he gets conned and bluffed by his ‘heinous tiger’ Tamora, played with ample sorcery by Rachel Burfield. Bampton is delightful as Lavinia and the injuries she suffers and endures for us to witness attract the full count of our pity, while Joshua Mensch’s Demetrius is suitably nasty and feral.

Matt Houston as the flawed Emperor - image by Richard Parkhill.

Matt Houston as the flawed Emperor – image by Richard Parkhill.

Opinion is often split as to whether or not Titus Andronicus is a great play; certainly with 17 in the cast and a less than subtle story line, it is perhaps not a surprise that it has previously never been performed in this town. As the tag line to Michael Eustice’s Red Phoenix Theatre’s ambitions – to bring never before seen theatre to Adelaide – he has certainly made a splash. The production is bold and confronting even with the use of the most spare staging.

If slaughter is your thing, get off your couches shaped by hours before Game of Thrones and take in how it used to be done, live on stage.

Kryztoff Rating   3.5K

Aug 16

VISUAL ART – Stanley Spencer – Carrick Hill

Stanely SPENCER - Sunflower CROPPED_event-detailBy Peter Maddern

The custodians of Carrick Hill – the gift to the State of their home by Bill and Ursula Hayward – have chosen well the subject of Stanley Spencer to commemorate 30 years as a public institution.

For nobody promoted the works of the diminutive Spencer in this country more than Ursula, first through her own acquisitions (thanks to her close networks in London) and then in her role on the board of the (then) National Gallery of South Australia (now the Art Gallery of South Australia.)

This exhibition, limited appropriately to around 30 works, adorns the northern upstairs rooms of Carrick Hill and provides a rich overview of his work.

To be sure Spencer was (at the least) a slightly odd man; perhaps his home schooling deprived him of a sense of the world but praised he is today by art lovers for the outcomes of it. His life and art centred around Cookham, a village on a bend in the Thames River near Maidenhead on the now outskirts of west London. There he focused initially on landscapes, not of grand views but of the ordinary, cosy world of his own backyard. His works bring a brilliant radiance and detail to that mundane place, with never a blink askance about the potential distractions of such things as glasshouses or jagged walls that rest behind his immediate subjects. Flowers were another favourite subject with his Sunflower (above) one of the most striking works exhibited.

Daphne By The Window

Daphne By The Window

But while his fancies also lay in nudes, portraits and various Christian themes, economic austerity, somewhat self-imposed, necessitated him to keep churning out the landscapes and flowers in order to stay alive. For it was another of his failings to leave his first wife, Hilda, in favour of Patricia, his model subject, who even known to be a lesbian he married granting her his house in a pre-nuptial arrangement. It seems the marriage did not even get as far as the bedroom on the wedding night.

These sadnesses are also displayed in two very poignant paintings – Hilda Welcomed and Parents Resurrecting – homages to happier and more innocent times with these large influences on his life, now lost as he struggles on. The figures in these are rounded, avuncular and fulsome individuals, a departure from some of the usual tortured portraits usually commended from that and other eras.

Still for all his disappointments and frustrations, Spencer’s work through the late 1930s sustains a poise and calm at odds with his predicament, some testament to his vision.

This is an excellent exhibition of one of England’s finest 20th century painters, bringing together works from across the country and England in a rare retrospective of colour and beauty that sits more than soundly in the grandeur of Carrick Hill. The accompanying book by Richard Heathcote and Anna Jug adds much to the understanding of the exhibit and one may well benefit from reading it before embarking up the majestic staircase.

 

Aug 15

FILM – Motorkite Dreaming – 3.5K

1-motorkite-dreaming-519x760By Peter Maddern

A better understanding of the true nature of the Australian outback and it’s inhabitation by aborigines is something most city slickers would benefit from. There are probably few better to explain it all for us than film maker Charlie Hill-Smith whose work has focused on cross cultural worlds, especially in this country and the region including the ‘Nesias’ – Micro, Poly and Indo.

His protagonists are Daryl and Aidan who are embarking on an adventure, in the air on Mircolights (the kind of aircraft Leonardo DaVinci  may have conjured (and little more)) and their partners Elsie and Lexi, who remain on the ground driving along laden with supplies and fears of what may happen above them. Their proposed trek is from Adelaide across four deserts to Beagle Bay on the far north-west coast of Australia.

It’s made clear early on that both men are somewhat card carrying members of the loose cannon club with preparations somewhat constrained by a lack of training (licences only obtained  a few days before lift-off), experience and resources – notably cash for petrol – but off they go.

As any such journey may encounter, but certainly this one would seem more than likely to, our team gets into a range of fraught positions – crashes, bogged vehicles, unscheduled extended stays in the bush – and of course tensions between members resulting from male boneheadedness, tiredness and time out of the comfort zone of home.

However, the highlights come from Hill-Smith’s focus on the encounters with the land and the aborigines. Whether perceived as a blessing or a curse, this month-long journey sees the outback covered with water and Hill-Smith captures superb scenes over a flooded Lake Eyre and then the western deserts as the trek goes further north.

Two moments while they are in Kintore, a remote WA township, are perhaps the best of the film. Here we see a football carnival being played – who knows from how far away these people came for this – and paintings by local dot painters of their perceptions of their land viewed from above layered over with those taken from the Microlights.

There is something very skilful about the filmmaking here as well. While we are presented with maybe five or six players on the trek, the credits acknowledge the contributions of many more on the film crew. Keeping an authenticity about the adventure and isolation in foreign territory is another strength of this engaging documentary.

Microlighting (or the ‘Motorkites’ as the aborigines refer to them) may appear an enormous buzz but they are not without danger – it is noted that at least four people have died on them in one local’s memory alone – but beyond the adrenaline rush the perspective on the land and its people, combined with the contraption’s fragility, make this Dreaming riveting and enjoyable viewing.

Kryztoff Rating  3.5K

See our interview with Director and Film maker, Charles Hill-Smith below:

 

Aug 15

GUITAR FESTIVAL – Paco de Lucía – The Journey – Her Majesty’s – 4K

By Peter Maddern

Born into a guitar family, with his development watched over assiduously by his father, by his 15th birthday Paco De Lucía had become a more than proficient flamenco player, steeped in Andalusian traditions. However, on a concert trip to New York he was encouraged by legends Sabicas and Mario Escudero to write his own music and develop his own style, advice he took to heart.

Paco de Lucía – The Journey is a superb documentary produced by his son, Curro Sánchez, which, thanks to volumes of recorded video from the past 50 years and quite intimate and open conversations with his father captured before his death two years ago, reveals the, at times, very problematic journey of a genius.

Not only did some unique style have to emerge, but Paco, like many other heretics of conventional wisdoms, needed to also stand firm against the criticism of industry leaders and commentators alike. For them he was a threat and a renegade but through a series of chance meetings and events, we see how various stages of the great’s career developed; from joining with singer Camarón to incorporating jazz and even box beats into his repertoire.

But beyond, as is made plain in the film, lay a skill and understanding of his instrument that facilitated both virtuosity and passion in his playing no matter the lengths of effort he went to surpass previous heights.

Sadly, it seems this documentary is yet to find Australian distribution but hopefully it will get included in a future Latino Film Fest or similar at the Palace for it is certainly worth the price of admission, if only for hearing the playing, the sounds of which are finely reproduced in it.

Kryztoff Rating    4K

Aug 13

GUITAR FESTIVAL – Lord Byron’s Don Juan – Tama Matheson and Karin Schaupp – 4.5K

By Peter Maddern

There is something quintessentially British about George Gordon Byron; living in a society that while prescribing morality and propriety is dominated by those whose behaviour is more notable for the breach than the observance of that civil code. Indeed it is unclear just exactly what principles guided the young Byron other than some devotion to his own ego and varied sexual pleasure.

Tama Matheson superbly takes us through this life posed as he is in his final days, aged 36, before sepsis arising from treatment for fever takes its ultimate hold. In it Matheson also speaks to the genesis and development of Byron’s masterpiece, the unfinished Don Juan.  These prove to be threads that are deeply interwoven; autobiographical and delusional, grand and petty.

Adding to the intrigue, the hubris and the humour is Karin Schaupp working away on solo guitar with music from Turina, Pujol and Tàrrega before herself too getting caught up in the tale.

Matheson’s Lord Byron’s Don Juan is a gem, a quinella of consummate writing and delivery, a gripping tale of a free (albeit self-obsessed) spirit accompanied by rhythms of love, passion and struggle. One can only hope for a repeat season – one night is surely not enough.

Kryztoff Rating    4.5K

Aug 12

THEATRE – 42nd Street – Scotch College

By Peter Maddern

Harry Warren and Al Dublin’s 1980 stage hit, based on a 1930’s film and set in that period, is a good fun musical of the old school – that is (thankfully) with many great songs and lively banter. The students and staff at Scotch College have ambitiously taken on 42nd Street and deliver a fine evening of singing and dancing, with the tap sequences perhaps the highlight.

Both Paris Anderson as the aging diva Dorothy Brock and Tayla Coad as the interloping Peggy Sawyer delight, with Anderson particularly carrying her extra (stage) years with maturity and aplomb. Jordan Tomljenovic I suspect has no problems getting dates for the school formal as his Billy Lawlor is full of flair and poise aided by a smashing smile and abundant charisma. While in playing impresario Julian Marsh, Lachlan Williams is somewhat straight jacketed in a scowl, fortunately the second half gives his obvious talents more freedom culminating in a terrific solo as the finale. His chiselled facial looks will no doubt hold him in good stead as a leading man for stage and screen in years to come. Lewis Shilvock as Marsh’s right hand man, Andy Lee, also possesses great talent capturing the audience in the show’s opening dance and clearly he knows how to make his shoes produce magic, while Katie Luscombe’s performance as Maggie Jones is also one to enjoy.

However, amongst a range of singing talent, were they Sebastien Skubala’s few bars at the opening of the second half that suggested he has the best vocals of them all?

Director Adam Goodburn and his team deserve much credit for the quality of the performance, no doubt requiring enormous reserves of skill, commitment and patience to get a show like this together as they compete for the students’ time among many other obligations. But Linda Williams’s choreography amply satisfied her audience as well as pushing the limits of what her dancers could deliver, with all the big dance scenes well-rehearsed, especially noted in the final dance routines for which timing needed to be spot on and it was. Anthony Hubmayer’s musical direction was also excellent with no risk of his charges ever dragging on the required pace for the performers on the floor boards above them.

Well done also to the school administration for backing a venture like this. Students may forever kick footballs and memorise maths tables but few of those involved in this production are ever likely to forget the experience.

Aug 10

THEATRE – The Crucible – UATG – Little Theatre – 3.5K

By Peter Maddern

Arthur Miller’s classic takes us back to Salem in the late 17th century. The devil is working his evil through witches, women unable to repel his wicked spirits. Ironically, confessing one’s status as a witch saves one’s neck, but to deny it once accused is to invite the noose.

It’s a sad and gruelling affair as Abigail Williams (Zoe Dibb), used, abused and discarded seeks revenge on those who have put her where she is, notably John Proctor (Kim Clark) and his wife, Elizabeth (Cheryl Douglas.) But there are plenty of others caught up in the bizarre logic and desperate search for the perpetrators by the ruling elite of judges and priests.

Clark shines in his demanding role, scaling a number of arcs of character and plot especially as he comes to face that terrible choice between truth and life. Ben Todd as the self-righteous, meddling sticky beak Revered John Hale is also excellent while Steve Marvanek’s Deputy Governor Danforth is a force of nature which would have benefitted from a healthy dose of accompanying nuance. Zoe Muller as Mary Warren, battered from pillar to post by those around her, also gives a most convincing display.

Marks must also be given to design crew of the straw laden stage with the low hanging cross beam on the door a nice touch.

As already alluded to, director Geoff Brittain would have done well to develop more subtlety and alternate approaches in some of his players’ performances – Danforth too brusque, Abigail somewhat unconvincing as to her scheming, the girls too loud in their displays of the Devil’s possession. Thank goodness for John Sabine’s asides as Giles Corey that shone through as welcome relief from the sadness and madness around him.

The Crucible was drafted at the time that odious Wisconsin Senator Eugene McCarthy was destroying livelihoods and lives on his Un-American Activities Commission. The play’s program makes note that these lessons are still for the learning today, though the immediate parallels are not clear – today freedom of speech is repressed where then and in Salem speaking out about anyone one didn’t much like was, it seems, good sport. Still no one is the worse for having the light shone on the perils of the path Miller refers to.

Kryztoff Rating 3.5K

Aug 08

THEATRE – The Matchmaker – Independent Theatre Co. – Goodwood Institute – 5K

By Peter Maddern

In making the observation that “there comes a moment in everybody’s life when he must decide whether he’ll live among human beings or not – a fool among fools or a fool alone” Dolly Levi (Bronwyn Ruciak) encapsulates the essence of the wonderful farce that is The Matchmaker. Should Horace Vandergelder (David Roach), rich but lonely, controlling yet yearning for a fling remain the dead weight he is in the lives of all around him in Yonkers or be the source of spreading the loot (“like manure”) for the benefit of all? None are more oppressed than his two clerks, 25 year old Cornelius Hackl (Will Cox) and his sidekick the late teenager Barnaby Tucker (Kylie Hall) for whom the kiss of a woman is nothing but a dream as they work seven days a week in the servitude of a man they despise.

Fortunately, Dolly has other ideas and no desire to remain without the means to live life to its fullest and her tide of scheming raises the levels of opportunity for all others in her aura, including Horace’s preferred wife to be, the milliner Irene Malloy (Georgia Penglis) and Horace’s sweet niece Ermengarde (Emma Bleby), frustrated in her desires by Horace for the “worthless’’ artist Ambrose Kemper (Stephen Schofield.)

This is the finest production I have witnessed by Rob Croser’s Independent Theatre team. It sparkles with wit and warmth right from the opening. Bronwyn Ruciak’s Dolly is her finest performance, a fulsome force of female nature, equally adept at scorn and scheme, her upbeat exuberance is nicely matched by her garb, an outfit to make even a theatrical rival in Lady Bracknell think twice about leaving home.

Will Cox brilliantly buzzes almost incessantly as his Cornelius throws what little he has in pursuit of an adventure, dragging along his friend Barnaby who, in Kyle Hall, Croser has yet again unearthed a terrific young talent. Their moments of unbridled effervescence when the prospects of their “pudding” adventure start to emerge make the most excitable puppy look struck down by Mogadon. Indeed, one could go on singing the praises of the cast who to use cricket parlance “bats down to eleven.”

With Roach as the grumpy fish out of water, director Rob Croser gets his team to make every funny line sparkle and the various asides to the audience intimate, revealing; the wall collapsed in favour of what seems like a brief fire side chat.

Even with months ahead of us, it is hard to see how The Matchmaker isn’t Adelaide’s best production of the year. A comic delight resplendent with touch and a message as relevant in even these freewheeling days as those past.

Kryztoff Rating   5K

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