Adelaide Festival Reviews
The Sapphires by Tony Briggs
The Adelaide Festival has brought an outstanding lineup of Motown hits to South Austrlia, neatly rolled into the endearing story of the McCrae sisters and how their lives were transformed when they came to perform in the all-girl singing group The Sapphires for the troops during the Vietnam War.
Set in the 1960’s, The Sapphires is a tale of love, loss, family and a difficult time for Aboriginal woman in Australia. Playwright Tony Briggs has created this outstanding piece based on the real‐life adventures of his mother and aunts, and the story really rings true.
The show, performed in the newly renovated Scott Theatre, is directed by Wesley Enoch and features an all-star cast including Christine Anu as Gail McCrae, the oldest sister and pseudo mother to the group, Casey Donovan as the sassy sister Cynthia McCrae. Kylie Farmer holds everyone together when tempers flare as Kay McCrae and Hollie Andrew plays the most vulnerable and troubled of the four as Julie McCrae. Each of the women sings as exceptionally as the next, and with Oliver Wenn as their manager, Aljin Abella as a young Vietnamese boy, Jimi Bani as Jimmy, and Kenneth Ransom playing Robby, the cast is perfectly rounded and affectionately warm.
Set Designer Richard Roberts has created a clever, multi-functional set which doubles as the war zones of Vietnam and the performance stages for each venue. Cleverly lit by designer Trent Suidgeest and costumed by Tim Chappel, the show has a neat polished look.
The Sapphires is a feel good production that had the audience in raptures of applause. Everything about it was just right, and amounted to a fantastic night’s entertainment. The cast went from strength to strength, and the harmonization of the singers was simply outstanding, sending shivers down your spine. This production was a pleasure to watch, and comes highly recommended for an uplifting night’s entertainment.
The Sound and the Fury
Elevator Repair Service. The Dunstan Playhouse
Imagine, if you will, what it would be like to exist in the mind of an intellectually disabled mute. If you can't - perhaps The Sound and the Fury can help. This complicated drama explores the world around the life of Benjamin, or Benjy as he has affectionately been called since the discovery of his illness at age 3. The story is taken from the chapter entitled April Seventh, 1928 of William Faulkner’s novel of the same title. It is Benjy’s perception of the events occurring around him, scattered across the 33 years of his life. Imagine trying to describe what it is like to be inside the mind of someone who exists entirely in their own thoughts, who cannot comprehensively express the way they are feeling. This production highlights the sights, sounds and changing emotional states of Benjy, whist delivering to the audience a story as mixed up and complicated as it must have been in his own mind.
The audience may struggle to keep up with the 14 different "main" characters because each one is played by 41 variations of actors and actresses, and I haven't even started on minor characters. If you’re confused already, then you should be. The chopping and changing makes it very difficult to keep up with the action. But for those in the audience who concentrate hard enough, they are in for just rewards! There are 17 stories or "moments" being remembered and played out by the cast, from Benjy’s point of view, and to make matters more complicated they are being recalled out of chronological order!
This complex changing and jumping does a fantastic job of conveying where the mind of Benjy is at. The actors change characters more often than the audience can perceive. So much so, that it is necessary for each to name the character whose dialogue they are delivering so as to keep the audience in context. This is an amazing directorial decision, and so true to what Benjy must be experiencing. He doesn’t understand who is who and what is what. Benjy only makes associations with smells, light, and sounds. A classic example of this is his favorite sister Caddy’s smell, “she smelt like trees” he thinks in narration. These are Benjy’s memories, not faces, not bodily vehicles, just perceptions of their existence.
It is almost impossible to describe the action, which is so brilliantly punctuated by sounds and lighting effects that are as unique and disjointed as the text. The stunning set is used to great effect and all of the actors do a sterling job. It is little wonder the company and this production by Elevator Repair Service, is so widely renowned. A must see.
The Life and Death of King John by William Shakespeare
The Life and Death of King John is a rarely performed piece of Shakespeare as it is a long 5 act play that is difficult to access due to the complicated nature of the scripting and many interwoven and overlapping tales throughout.
The Eleventh Hour have brought their award winning production to Adelaide as part of the 2010 Adelaide Festival, and it is a triumph. The Shakespearian story exists in the 13th century where France and England are at war, spurred on by the new King, John, who has rightfully or wrongfully taken the rulership of the kingdom of England. The Eleventh Hour production cleverly places the action in a parallel time, nearly six centuries later, in what can only be described as a true vision of 19th century world war.
Soldiers of the English army retreat to a hideaway after being injured in fighting, and here, whilst bunkering down for the night and waiting for word from the front, they decide to recite Shakespeare’s The Life and Death of King John to help pass the hours.
As if the script isn’t already complex enough, you might think interweaving another story would only serve to complicate the issue. But what Eleventh Hour has done is pure genius. Their secondary story allows the direction to slow at important moments in Shakespeare’s piece, and gives the audience a chance to catch up as the “real life” characters of the 19th century battle discuss and debate the merits of the 13th century text.
Directed by Anne Thompson, with William Henderson, Dramaturg, and Graeme Leak, Composer, the production features Anthony Ahearn, Richard Bligh, Christopher Brown, Michaela Cantwell, Angus Grant, Peter Houghton, Evelyn Krape, Jane Nolan, David Tredinnick and Greg Ulfan.
Every single cast member holds their own in this complicated text and gives a stellar performance, which keeps the audience transfixed. Difficult accents are spot on and never waiver throughout the production, and some tricky character swapping is also cleverly handled with the use of basic props to suggest the change.
The set design is stunning and Adelaide’s Queen Theatre has been transformed into a perfect vision of the 19th Century bunker, strewn with wine barrels, milk churns, timber cases and sand bags. It does not take long to forget where you are and be swept away by this production. There is clever use of a cappella song interspersed amongst the show, which builds a feeling of camaraderie and closeness. Four of the actors play the entire show with the disability of having their eyes bandaged from an explosion. This makes it incredibly difficult to convey the same emotion through facial expression, but each of the players does an outstanding job.
It is not hard to see why this production of The Life and Death of King John received Green Room Awards for Best Adaptation and Best Production. One of the cleverest pieces of Shakespeare to come to Adelaide a long time, outstanding cast, outstanding production qualities, not to be missed.
Torrens Parade Ground
Forget your typical commentated suspense building circus. Barely Contained by Circus Oz Australia is acrobatic trick after trick set to the tantalizing sounds of the Circus Oz Band. This new breed of circus incorporates far more comedy and acting and intersperses fewer tricks amongst short themed scenes. Including old favourites like balancing acts, hula hoops and the trapeze, this circus also includes rollerblading tricks, tap dancing and a ballet themed stilt walking act. Throughout the small skits the performers have a knack for overlapping the tricks, dragging the audience's attention all over the big top and keeping them on their toes. This both serves to heighten the intensity but does mean you often miss something whilst looking in the other direction. When the circus descends into chaos and mayhem these performers are clearly at their best. What appears to be a crazed mish mash is actually a tightly timed and highly coordinated routine which requires each of the performers not to miss a beat. Unfortunately the fancy air-conditioned tent was a little too effective on the brisk evening and had the big top feeling more like an ice arena.
The Famous Spiegeltent
For fans of the Arts, March represents an overwhelmingly challenging time to be in Adelaide. For one month, the Festival City shines and provides more entertainment then you have hours in the day. Picking what to see from the wealth of opportunity can be tough, but one should stand out as classifiably unmissable: La Clique.
Returning to pack the delightful Famous Spiegeltent after stunning London and Paris, 2010 sees a line-up more focused on cabaret and burlesque than acrobatics. With many in the audience returning fans and the rest likely inspired by glowing recommendations, La Clique sensationally delivers on its reputation.
The first thing to strike you on entry may be the diminutive size of the stage, but don’t be fooled. What is to come will leave you in no doubt as to the source of this show’s popularity. Act after act, the audience is captivated by polished performances that never leave you doubting they will achieve what they promise.
The vinyl-clad Miss Behave’s cabaret routines keep you torn between looking and looking away as she swallows scissors and table legs and stubs out cigars with her tongue. Carl-Einar Hackner, the pseudo-magician, is comic genius, while a cheeky and sexy stripping routine from Ursula Martinez will give you something else to think about when next using your hanky.
The only repeat act from their last tour, Mario – Queen of the Circus, continues his juggling comedy act and is as funny as ever. Roller acrobatics from the Skating Willers pack the wow-factor, but the unexpected standout for many will be the puppetry of Cabaret Decadanse. A duo hailing from Montreal, their incredible cast of dolls serenade and captivate, while the puppeteers themselves are equally as entertaining.
Unfortunately, not all seating in this venue is equal. A fair amount of the show is staged from a podium behind seats to the left of the entrance, which, for those audience members, means swiveling in your chair a lot.
Also worthy of note for the easily offended: this show contains full nudity and if you sit in the front row, prepare for you (and your drink) to be intimately and hilariously incorporated into the show. Don’t be put off, this show is the quintessential Adelaide Festival experience and worth every second - La Clique will leave you screaming for more!
Man Covets Bird
Man covets bird is about discovering identity, coming of age, loss of innocence, and overcoming loneliness. Our character, Roger (sounds like Nodger) is an ‘almost man’. Discovering his place in the world on the brink between being a child and becoming a man. You see, he hasn't yet acomplished a man task - like buying a house, or having a son. But one morning he wakes up, and no longer recognises who he is, or the world around him. The play, written by Finegan Kruckemeyer, is a beautiful story of self-discovery. Set in the Festival Centre’s Space Theatre, the seating has been removed and the floor carpeted in real life grass. A multi functional rotunda is set in the middle of the room where most of the action takes place. As in most Adelaide Fringe shows this year, projection features heavily in the production and is an incredibly successful element.
This production is outstanding in every aspect. Lighting and set design achieve their objective, and music writen and performed by Quincy Grant with support from Steve Lennox and Gareth Chin fits seamlessly into the background, creating the kind of ambiance you get from a film. In fact, this play had the emotional quality of a film, by bringing the action right in to the audience, surrounding and encompassing them. Man covets bird is a must see, lead actor Nathan O'Keefe has attained perfection in this role, and gives the audience a performance which feels private and personal. One of the most heart warming nights of theatre in Adelaide for a long time, Man Covets Bird shows us there is beauty in nature, in something as simple as a bird's song - and small things can change the world.
Le Grand Macabre
Adelaide Festival Theatre
The Adelaide Festival Centre has been overtaken by an enormous naked woman called Claudia, the artistic stylings of directors Alex Ollé and Valentina Carrasco, in their staging of Gyorgy Ligeti’s Opera, Le Grand Macabre. Described as an Anti-anti-opera, and first performed at the Royal Opera Stockholm in 1978, this piece is generally thought of as a slap in the face to traditional opera, with its clanging and bashing of percussion, rowdy horns, and unconventional vocal distortions.
It is written that the giant woman encompassing the set is meant to convey the body’s response to the threat of death, the same threat which is revealed by the lead character Nekrotzar. Describing himself to Piet the Pot as the Devil, Nekrotzar arrives in Breughelland, risen from his grave - depicted by the wide open mouth of Claudia – and announces that at the stroke of midnight the world will end.
Projection features very prominently in this production and the visual effects created by its usage are amazing. At one point the body of Claudia is rotated over 360 degrees on a revolve in the stage, whilst a skeleton is simultaneously projected onto her blank figure.
The visual effects are sure to be remembered and the interesting staging equally so. When the Black and White Ministers (dressed in Red and Blue) spill from the backside of Claudia revealing the intestinal tract inside her body, reactions could be heard across the auditorium. Other interesting staging decisions include the choice of left breast – with the nipple as a door of course – for the empty grave in which lovers, Amanda and Amado hide to consecrate their love.
An opera lover may feel a little cheated in their expectations of this production if they were not first aware of its context, but as a contemporary piece it certainly holds true to its ideals and concepts, not even stopping at swear words to depict necessary meanings. An interesting and exciting evening of entertainment, if not for everyone.
Shanghai Beauty opens to the time lapsed projection of artistic director Jin Xing, being made up in the style of Chinese Opera. It is interesting for the audience to see the amount of time and sheer number of layers that go into creating this costume, and serves to reinforce the proposition embraced by the dancers in the choreography of the piece.
East meets West. That is the idea that Jin Xing, in conjunction with Jutta Hell and Dieter Baumann of the Rubato Dance Company in Berlin, have attempted to choreograph. But distilling the message is incredibly complex. This doesn’t however detract from the spectacle. It just makes the work a little ambiguous and difficult to decipher, which does tend to leave you wondering what it was all for.
The work features quite heavily, a lot of the technique and styling which Xing is famous for. Specifically the group movement, synchronicity en-masse and populous conformity, a form which is meant to represent the lifestyle in the East, and the lack of personal space from overpopulation. This grouping quickly breaks into stunning solos and dazzling ensemble dances where costume and colour feature quite strongly in the concept.
Still, the overall feel of the production was a little empty, and you can’t help thinking that something significant was missing in the translation. As wonderful and talented as the cast of dancers were, the choreography was steeped in repetition that didn’t seem to advance the message. A difficult show to interpret, but a pleasure to watch.
Be Your Self
Her Majesty’s Theatre, Adelaide.
World Renowned, Adelaide Based, Modern Contemporary dance company Australian Dance Theatre have unveiled their new work Be Your Self as part of the 2010 Adelaide Festival of Arts, and what an unveiling it was.
The minimalist set, compromising an angled thatched elastic fabric rostrum lit by row upon row of fluorescent light, just waits to be brought to life when the show goes up. It isn't long before a soundscape of electronic beats and digital sound effects punctuate the auditorium as the 10-strong troupe of dancers robotically strut and weave onto the stage.
Their message, Be Your Self. The question, what is one’s Self? Through powerful and exhilarating choreography, Gary Stewart explores the complexities of the human mind and body and challenges our definition of Self as a single and isolated entity.
Equally tested is the depth of the ADT dancers and they rise to the occasion. With great physical skill and strength each demonstrates the amazing capabilities of the perfect machine and the awesome connection that mind and matter can create. The performance is epitomized by sheer athleticism and flawless timing and syncopation as the dancers reticulate and disseminate at great speed and with abounded enthusiasm.
The message in the piece can be difficult to distil, but Stewart does not lose all in the philosophy. The evident quality and skill of the dancers makes the production more than just a pleasure to watch. Throughout, audience members could be seen mesmerised by the visual spectacle, often with mouths wide in disbelief or shaking their heads in wonder. While some may have been left contemplating what they had just witnessed, none had any second thought about giving this production a rousing four-bow applause and standing ovation as the curtain fell.
It is true that you will need to see this production to genuinely understand what simply cannot be explained. But there is no doubt that worldwide, audiences will be challenged, excited and stimulated by this great new work from Australian Dance Theatre.