Saturday, 30 July 2016

Changes - Music Review

What: Changes - A Tribute to the music of David Bowie
Where: Gasworks Arts Park
When: 27 July - 6 August
Direction by: Kendall-Jane Rundle
Musical Direction by: Jeff Wortman
Costumes by: Jessica Allie
Lighting Design: Bryn Cullen and Rob Sowinski
Performed by: Jacqui Essing, Charlotte Fox, Candice, Lillian, Isabelle Mulrooney,Kendall-Jane Rundle, Benjamin Samuel, Melanie Stevens, and Robot Child.
Stage Managed by: Michael Wilson
                                         PHOTO COURTESY OF ENCORE PR

Changes is a fun night chock full of all the greatest music created over the decades by David Bowie. From Space Oddity, through the Ziggy Stardust years, and onto the 80's pop era, this is a night which will leaving you reeling as you remember the truly phenomenal talent and contribution Bowie made to world of music.

The first act is more of a Greatest Hits collection (my favourites were 'Fashion' and 'Young American), the second act seemed to focus on the musically great numbers including 'Fame' and 'Life on Mars'. Robot Child really broke out of there constraints in the second act and took over the room. 

Robot Child is the band Waleed Aly plays in, for those who are interested. Jeff Wortman is the lead singer and his vocals were superb. The band are a truly magnificent ensemble. The clapping routine in 'Love is Lost' was mesmerising and anyone who has ever tried it will know how hard it is to sustain!

LSS did the sound and I was really impressed with what they achieved from an RCF/EV sound sytem.  The mix was a bit choppy at first, but by the middle of the first act it settled down and was not inferior to what you might hear in Hamer Hall. Part of the problems with the sound in the first act was more about the performers and microphone technique anyway, which the engineer can't do anything about.

Changes is not just a concert. It has a performative side to the tribute. You may recognise Rundle's name from my review last month of Psychosis 4.48. In that review, I commented that I felt the work was imprecise. Changes does not have this problem. Every move and moment is deliberate, considered and very well executed. 

Conceptually, Rundle and Wortman have created a performance surrounding the music which references the style and/or content of Bowie's video clips. The six chorus take on the rythmic movements of characters in clips or form photo shoot tableaus. Jacqui Essing really shines, and one of my favourite moments is 'Dancing in the Street' where she takes on the persona of Mick Jagger.

Wortman told me before the show that getting the rights was a fascinating negotiation. One of the important caveats was they were not allowed to 'impersonate' Bowie. It's a tricky problem but one which Rundle and Wortman have solved beautifully. Essentially they have separated (for the most part) the singing and the body of Bowie, treading a fine line between giving the audience what they have come for and respecting the wishes of the intellectual property owners. In fact, there is something quite illuminating revealed by separating the image of Bowie from the music. 

Visually, the focus is on bleach-blonde 80s Bowie, and Allie has done an amazing job of creating a collection of those wonderful Don Johnson style jackets in all the tones and hues of the 80s including fusschia, ming blue, aqua, royal blue, etc. Rundle is the iconic Bowie in red jacket, and white dress shirt, although where Bowie was always pristine in the 80s, Rundle is tousled and deconstructed.

The most annoying part of the evening was in act one Rundle had a lot of trouble with her 'madonna' mic. Focussing on her acting, and not having choreographed with the microphone in mind, it kept being knocked and falling which interfered with the vocals and therefore the performance. Given the nature of the show, the singing is more important so a bit of choreographical nuance would make a world of difference. Having said that, Rundle has a good singing voice and with some breath training she will develop a mighty set of pipes!

The first act is too long and too visually repetitive, but the songs are good. Don't give up at interval though, because act two will blow you away! A big shout out to the lighting designers as well. Magnificent work.

4Stars

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

A Very Modern Marriage - Theatre Review

What: A Very Modern Marriage
Where: The Owl and Cat Theatre
When: 26-29 July
Written by: Arthur M Jolly
Directed by: Gabrielle Savrone
Performed by: Tom Carty, Jayden Popik, and Ali Viterbi.


The latest offering at The Owl and Cat is an American comedy A Very Modern Marriage written by Los Angeles writer, Jolly. It has the flavour of sitcoms whilst dealing with the big issues of trust, marriage, and sexual orientation.

Jolly is a prolific writer, working across screen and stage and his writing in this play does show the screen influences very strongly. Generally speaking Jolly writes comedy and heightened realism and this play tends to fall into the later category although it is billed as a comedy. To me it felt more like a funny drama than a true comedy although the play is full of zingers and has many recognisable TV sitcom techniques and structures.

My hesitation to call it a true comedy is partly because much of the subject matter is very serious - broken relationships, economic inequality, deception, etc. It may also be a result of  Savrone's direction. Whilst Jolly writes heightened realism, this play has been directed as pure realism. This decision has tended to interfere with the comic timing and the farcical structures imbedded. The realism doesn't allow the jokes to be set up, it smooths out the clever step-by-step heightening built into the script, and doesn't allow the actors/characters to step out of their roles to acknowledge the audience as the pun structure invites them to do - especially the character of Christopher (Popik) who is the cliche quick quipping gay friend and sneaky husband stealer.

This is a play built on cliches. The humour lies there and so the play is funny regardless. It also holds some real shock and awe moments. One moment in particular, between Viterbi and Popik is absolutely breathtaking, shocking, and unexpected. (You may recognise Viterbi's name. She wrote Deadheads produced by The Owl and Cat earlier in the year.) In fact, Viterbi and Popik worked well together across the whole play.

One of the things I really enjoyed about this production was the design and use of space. The set had an awe inspiring level of detail without being overwhelming and Savrone has the actors using the space - all of it - inventively. The acting was precise and overall, I had a sense of complete confidence from the moment I walked in I was going to enjoy a good piece of theatre which showed respect to the play and the audience.

The ending of A Very Modern Marriage is somewhat trite, and it doesn't help that Carty's energy seemed to seep out of him at that point. Nevertheless it is a fun ride and there are moments in the show which are so perfectly crafted they will stick with me for a long time.

I laughed, I gasped, and I chuckled my way through A Very Modern Marriage. If you like what Red Stitch does you will really enjoy this show. Hurry though, it is only on this week.

4 stars.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Flash - Theatre Review

What: Flash
Where: Owl & Cat Theatre
When: 5-15 July
Written by: Francis Grin
Directed by: Carl Whiteside
Performed by: Casey Bohan, Ruby Duncan, Brett Fairbairn, Will Sutherland, and Dominic Weintraub.
Set by: Sonja Mounsey

                                              PHOTO COURTESY OF OWL & CAT THEATRE

Flash is an intriguing new British play being presented at the Owl & Cat Theatre this month. Written by Francis Grin, Flash is a story about psychopathy, peer pressure, and abuse, and is a great tale for these cold winter nights. It's not a ghost story but it could very well leave you with nightmares.

Grin begins the story at the end, and as the clock winds back the events of the preceding evening are unfolded. Interspersed are time jumping vignettes of the protagonist (Christian) at home with his father. This idea of moving backwards through the story creates a much more chilling effect than a normal forward revealing approach would have done. If you have ever read a newspaper article about a horrific event and wondered how it happened you will, for once, have your curiosity satisfied but I don't think you will feel any better for knowing.

Weintraub plays the central character of Christian - a highly energetic and fun loving kind of guy - and Sutherland is his sidekick Oliver. They are just full of energy and the risk taking of youth, right? That is certainly what everyone chooses to believe. Who cares about the burnt cockroaches and the unpopular girl? It's all just youthful exuberance and they won't cause any serious harm... They're good kids.

Weintraub does most of the work in this production and it is his energy which carries the play. It is not that the acting from the others is bad, it is more that they are very passive and so rather than giving Weintraub challenges to respond to and react against, they tend to wait for him to effect them all the time. This works for Sutherland who has created a character of surly meanness but Duncan misses a lot of opportunities to push back and create tension.

I feel Bohan and Fairbairn have misinterpreted their characters and are trying to be too nice. Fairbairn has a wonderful brooding presence but the script refers to him as an alcoholic and there is nothing of that in his portrayal which, again, leaves Weintraub nothing to play against. This releases the tension of the show right when it should be getting tighter and tighter.

To be honest I wasn't entirely sure whether Fairbairn was just playing one character or a couple of them, and I don't know if that is a directorial or a script problem. It is a problem though. Whiteside has done a good job of working with the actors generally. They are very clear about where they are and why they are there which gives an exciting precision to their movements.

 The difficulty is this production is just too nice. All of the characters are likeable and everybody is so controlled and ordinary the audience has to really work hard to get to the point and access the horror. Of course, playing the opposite is a good technique but this is a suspense thriller and it needs to have ugly moments, it needs to be explosive, it needs to frighten. A sickness in the belly grows as the story is revealed and this could be multiplied in impact with a bit more grit.

Mounsey's set is clever and I like the use of the space in the lengthwise configuration although it did become a bit like watching a tennis match. There is too much furniture. The stage is being used for breadth and this means there is little depth to play with so less furniture would give the actors room to build tension rather than trying to make their way around things. A closer look at what the central concern of the play is would have helped Whiteside and Mounsey make stronger choices which would prevent the audience from having any chance of disengaging.

I really like the ideas in this play and how the story is told. Weintraub and Sutherland are fantastic, and Flash evokes just enough coldness to help create a chilling night of theatre.

3.5 Stars