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Apr. 19th, 2010

Matt Robinson 1


Because I'm a nosey parker who loves statistical geekiness, I've decided to move my review posts to wordpress, they can be found here: http://noplain.wordpress.com/ I'll probably still post them flocked here, along with other personal posts.

Comment to be added if you're interested in me :)

Apr. 4th, 2010

Matt Robinson 1

Belated Reviews: The Sapphires and Man Covets Bird

The Sapphires
A Company B and Black Swan State Theatre Company Production
Presented by the State Theatre Company and the Adelaide Festival Of Arts
At (the beautifully renovated) Scott Theatre

Man Covets Bird
Presented by Slingsby at the Adelaide Festival of Arts
At the Space Theatre

Partly a year of mixed fortunes, overall the standard of productions in both the Frige and the Festival were very high. I was lucky enough to see some of the best theatre I’ve ever seen, both from local companies and international companies, showing (as if I had any doubt) that Adelaide is putting out theatre as good as the best of them. With a program of over 700 shows, the Fringe perhaps has more chances of having shows which are truly terrible, but it is also easier to avoid them. The smaller, compact Festival program, however, does not leave much room for missteps, and shows that don’t work should be judged much more harshly than their Fringe counterparts.
By far the most disappointing show of the festival season for me, was The Sapphires, a co-production between Black Swan State Theatre Company and Company B, presented by the State Theatre Company of South Australia and the Adelaide Festival of Arts. I don’t think I’m in the minority for feeling terribly disappointed by this production – but there was a lot of applause the night I went which I couldn’t understand, so clearly my feelings weren’t universal.

It did look good: could make a good cabaret show.

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But while the festival found room for a production which disappointed me in nearly every way, it also found room for one of the most stunning presentations I have ever seen. Man Covets Bird by Slingsby was indescribable. Andy Packer, Finnegan Kruckemeyer, Quincy Grant, Geoff Cobham, Wendy Todd, and everyone else involved in this production: I am astounded, and I salute you. I only wish I could put into words how amazing it was. My review ridiculously edges on the side of gushing, but if I had to sum it up the most succinctly, it is like the best hug you ever had. It just grabs you in its arms and squeezes and never lets you go. It’s as if you never knew you could be this full with love, and comfort, and all you want to do is hug it right back. And you feel like you could. I sat in the Space Theatre, on a picnic mat on the grass, and I was two meters away from the action. Before the show started we were ushered in with loving arms, we talked to The Man (Nathan O’Keefe), we laughed and we smiled, and there was so much joy in that room it could burst.

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The Sapphires plays at the Seymour Centre in Sydney, 26th May - 20th June. With any luck, Man Covets Bird will tour the world, forever.

Feb. 17th, 2010

Matt Robinson 1

Review: The Boy With Tape On His Face

 The Boy With Tape On His Face
Presented by Mr & Mrs Wills, at the Adelaide Fringe
At the Bosco Theater 

The Boy With Tape On His Face was an award-winning, extended-run, sell-out hit of the 2009 Adelaide Fringe Festival, and it’s not hard to see why. Relying heavily on audience participation, Sam Wills presents a performance as delightful as it is hilarious, perfect for rediscovering the joy and wonder that comes along with your inner child.

. . . 

Read the full review at Australian Stage Online

Feb. 4th, 2010

Matt Robinson 1

Review: Toy Symphony

 Toy Symphony by Michael Gow
Directed by Geordie Brookman
Presented by the State Theatre Company of South Australia and the Queensland Theatre Company

Chris Pitman and Daniel Mulvihill.

Toy Symphony is a beautiful play exploring not only the writer’s block of Roland Henning (Chris Pitman), but also the loss of the things which define us, the pieces which shape our world and experiences, and the absolute devastation that brings. Written by Michael Gow and directed by Geordie Brookman, it can be hard to bring together all the pieces of the narrative, but when you do it comes out to be a stunning whole.

Roland, frequently tense and unsympathetic, runs the risk of alienating the audience, which did happen on occasion, but even as played as an unsympathetic character he was deeply layered, human, and intriguing. Perhaps that is something better to see on a stage – a character you are so fascinated by you just want to study them, rather than a character you want to comfort.

Barbara Lowing, as doting schoolteacher Mrs Walkham, reminded me very much of my favourite teacher in primary school. That teacher which you look up to as the most amazing person, and all you want to do is impress them. As said in the play, it is the voice you remember, and Lowing has that voice perfect.

Lizzy Falkland, David Mulvihill and Ed Wrightman round out the stunning ensemble, each tackling a variety of roles.

While Gow is clearly a wonderful writer, playing with the language of this writer who cannot write, and with very distinct voices for the other characters in the play, it is Brookman’s direction which truly elevates the production and brings so much to the story. Brookman deftly plays a line between desperation and hope, so in a split second the audience stop laughing and their heart will drop.

At times, Toy Symphony almost feels like it is several plays coming together – not only is there a significant tonal and thematic shift between the two acts, but within each act itself. The bleak and drab reality of this defeated writer’s life becomes interspersed with moments of joy from his childhood and youth, and they inturn become highlighted with moments of true and pure magic.

Design by Jonathan Oxlade with Nigel Levings (lighting) and Brett Collary (composition and sound) also beautifully play with the juxtaposition of the bleak world and delightful childhood in wonderful and unexpected ways. Set changes are done seamlessly as the overlapping stories intertwine.

This is not so much a play that deserves an audience, but a play that an audience deserves to see. It is a serious look on a devastating character, but when these moments of joy appear it comes into a brilliant life of its own. Don’t let this production pass you by.

Toy Symphony plays Adelaide until February 14th, before touring to Hobart, Warragul, Frankston, Bendigo, Mooroopna, Wagga Wagga, Canberra, Wollongong, Gosford, Parramatta, Albury, Port Macquarie, Belrose, and Newcastle.

And on another note: the State Theatre Company has this year ensured all ticket prices are under $60 (even if they raised the Under 30s price...), and programs are now in a smaller format but available for a gold coin donation.  The new programs have slightly less in the way of writing from the director and the designer, but other than that they are just as good as they were before.  So huge thanks and congratulations to the company for doing this!

Jan. 11th, 2010

Matt Robinson 1

Review: Avenue Q

Avenue Q
At Her Majesty's Theatre
Presented by Arts Asia Pacific and PowerArts in association with the Adelaide Festival Centre

Written by Robert Lopez, Jeff Marx and Jeff Whitty

Avenue Q is kinda like Seasame Street. It’s the older, wiser brother of Sesame Street, the one that has discovered swearing, and porn, and sex. Lots of sex. Things aren’t all rosy here on Avenue Q, you’re more likely to learn about how Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist or The Internet Is For Porn rather than your ABCs, but hey – porn can be a lot more fun!

Natalie Alexopolous is delightful in the roles of Kate Monster and Lucy T. Slut. I don’t feel bad to admit I was a fan of McLeod’s Daughters (at least, until it dissolved into some supernatural mumbo-jumbo show) and I was very much looking forward to seeing Michala Banas in Avenue Q, and I was upset when I found out she wasn’t continuing with the production in Adelaide. But I loved Alexopolous, she had the heart and naivety of Kate and the sultry temptress of Lucy down pat, and one of my favourite moments of the show was watching Alexopolous perform both halves of a conversation between Kate and Lucy, while Josie Lane physically manipulated the second puppet. And what a beautiful voice, I could really just listen to her and Mitchel Butel (Princeton and Rod) sing all day. Butel was the other standout among the cast, playing the duel roles of Princeton and Rod, the hilarious closeted homosexual. While his voice got to shine as Princeton, his acting shone as Rod, who was the gayest puppet I have ever seen.

Johnathan Biggs directed this Australian production, with set and costume design by Richard Roberts, and it is a very cleverly done production, and it would be enough to see just to admire the direction and design, which is incredibly clever. With a human cast of just nine on the night I saw it, I don’t know how large the puppet cast is, but the curtain call cast seemed impossibly small.  While not uniformly strong, the songs were, for the most part, sharp and complex; Robert Lopz and Jeff Marx easily transition from large funny group numbers to touching solos, with There's A Fine, Fine Line being one of the best new musical theatre love songs.

I don’t know if it’s purely a reflection of my age, or if it’s a reference which doesn’t suit an Australian audience, but I didn’t much appreciate the role of Gary Coleman (Leah Howard). My knowledge of Gary Coleman extends to exactly two facts: the catch phrase “What you talking about, Willis?” (what show it’s from, I don’t know), and he is short. That’s it. So a lot of the time when Gary was on stage I was sitting there thinking “is this a joke I’m not getting?” While sometimes funny, the character was largely superfluous to the story and, in my eyes, detracted from the overall production.

Avenue Q is not a show for everyone, and after raving to a friend I did say “you wouldn’t like it, though”; they may be puppets, but they are dirty and puppet sex does appear on stage. However, if you can get past being squeamish about puppets swearing and singing about porn, then you should see this show. While it is being pitched at a younger audience, the audience at the performance I was at was incredibly diverse in terms of ages, and everyone left the theatre smiling and raving about the production. Don’t let this show pass you by.

Avenue Q plays Adelaide until Jan 31st Feb 7th, and then continues on its tour to Brisbane.

Jan. 3rd, 2010

Matt Robinson 1

Female writers and directors in Adelaide, 2010

Many 2010 theatre seasons for Adelaide have now been announced, and after I noticed the lack of female writers and directors in shows I saw last year, I wondered if I was just choosing these shows or if it was actually representative of the state of the arts in Adelaide - as many bloggers and arts commentators have shown to be the state of things in Sydney and Melbourne.  In 2009, just 17% of the plays/musicals I attended were written by females, and 23% were directed by females.  Here, I've looked at the announced professional theatre seasons for Adelaide companies, to see what the distribution of males and females working professionally on Adelaide stages is like.  Some shows are counted under multiple presenters (eg, State Theatre and the Festival of Arts, or Windmill and the Adelaide Festival Centre), but are only counted once in the total.  Companies only presenting one work under the AFC have not been listed twice, and companies which have not yet released 2010 seasons (eg Vitalstatistix and Patch) have not been counted. 
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Dec. 31st, 2009

lucinda dunn

Shows and Performances 2009

11th - Billy Elliot - Her Majesty's Theatre, Melbourne
14th - Wicked - Regent Theatre, Melbourne
28th  - The Importance of Being Ernest - Ridiculusmus - Her Majesty's Theatre
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Dec. 26th, 2009

Matt Robinson 1

My Year In Theatre, 2009

This year I saw 61 performances of 53 productions, which is ridiculously excessive and I have no idea how I pulled that off, and the list of shows I wanted to see but didn’t get to is probably that long again. Of those 53 productions, I thought 38 were great, and while several were disappointing, over all I was very pleased; there were only two I wanted to walk out on – and only one I actually did. There were: twenty plays, nine musicals, eight cabaret shows, six dance performances, six music performances, two comedians, one circus, and one magician.

I saw:
- three Australian companies performing international productions,
- ten international touring productions,
- fourteen interstate productions, and
- twenty-six South Australian productions (including one interstate co-production).

Looking at plays and musicals, I saw:
- seven new South Australian scripts (helped by three at Gorge and two at Young Guns),
- four new interstate scripts (including a new adaptation),
- six new international scripts in their first Australian presentation (the oldest first performed 2001),
- remounts of two Australian works (which both premiered within the past five years), and
- twelve international works previously shown in Australia.

There were:
- 4.83 female writers and
- 24.16 male writers,
presented by:
- 7.5 female directors and
- 24.5 male directors.

(These numbers don’t all add up the same because I’ve counted different things in different ways).

I saw six performances in Melbourne, and the rest were in Adelaide. My attempts to make a top ten list I was happy with didn’t work, so I’m listing my top six, which were head-and-shoulders above all else, and then listing special mentions. It’s my list; I can do what I want to!
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Dec. 19th, 2009

Matt Robinson 1

Review: Jersey Boys

Jersey Boys Book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elise, music by Bob Gaudio, lyrics by Bob Crewe
Presented by Newtheatricals and Dainty Consolidated Entertainment
At the Princess Theatre, Melbourne.

Jersey Boys
is an utterly infectious show, bursting with love and happiness and has left me with songs in my head and a smile on my face. Telling the rise of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons as four boys from crime-riddled New Jersey, to super-stars of the world music stage. Using the songs from their lives to tell their stories, Jersey Boys primarily uses music in scenes when the band performs, and so it’s almost like watching a play-meets-musical-meets concert, and above all, it is fun.

The role of Frankie Valli is not only absolutely pivotal, but is so specific: a short man (which was helped by blocks on shoes of some accompanying characters) with a voice covering a huge range which can blow the audience away, Bobby Fox is outstanding as Valli. He brings the perfect balance of charm, sweetness and toughness to the character, and his voice is undeniably the best male voice I have heard on a stage this year. All four men making up the original Four Seasons (Scott Johnson, Stephen Mahy and Glaston Toft accompany Fox) have brilliant voices, and the four part harmonies are padded out with members from the male ensemble to create a rich sound throughout the theatre.

Occasionally, the sound balance was a bit off, with a bit of manipulation heard, perhaps to create atmosphere or emphasise points of the dialogue, and I felt it would’ve been better to just let the voices speak for themselves. The show was strongest when there was a good mix between all of the men singing, and it just sounded pure, which did seem to occur more often towards the back end of the production.

It is the design and scene transitions which really make this show. Looking at the program before the show, I was taken aback as to how they were possibly going to perform 34 songs in a show clocking in at under three hours. This was achieved in a beautifully simplistic set, with simple set pieces simply rolled on and off by the cast – and the final product is a show with far more than 34 scenes. At fist, I was a bit distracted by the sheer speed of these transitions, but it didn’t take long for me to settle into the pace of the show. In addition to the simple roll-on/roll-off set pieces, the stage had a simple metal walkway, and screens projecting a mix of fifties-style pictures, old audience footage from shows like American Bandstand and live-film footage from the scenes of the men performing. While these screens were used smartly and to advantage, there was no mistaking that stage make-up, while looking great from the audience, does not belong on a big screen.

While the show undeniably belongs to the four lead boys, without the stunning ensemble the show would be nothing. As often as the show changes scenes, the ensemble cast are changing characters, costumes, and accents (and, occasionally, languages), making the show look like it has a staggering number of cast members, when there are only sixteen. Of particular standout were the women who played Frankie’s two wives, Lisa Adam and Verity Hunt-Ballard, who both played several significant characters. And in addition to this, some members of the cast even supplemented the orchestra – I picked out cast members playing guitar and drums, but there could’ve been more.

The orchestra and orchestrations for the show were great, and enveloped the theatre – in particular the drums. I don’t remember being so taken by the drums in a show before. On stage for most of the performance, the drums also became a pivotal set piece, and one of my favourite scene transitions were when one drum kit and drummer was swapped out for another, with perfect timing.

While Jersey Boys showed the “boys from the wrong side of the track story” and was an incredible story, I got the idea that the real story would be even more interesting, even more complex, and a lot dirtier. Some places in particular the book seemed a bit weak, not giving explanations or merely waving over facts, but you get so caught up in the fun of the production that hardly seems to matter.

Nov. 22nd, 2009

Matt Robinson 1

Review: Gorge 09 - Saturday 21st Nov

Day Three: Footsoilders by Nicki Bloom
Presented by Brink Productions with the Adelaide Festival Centre's inSPACE Program, as a part of the Feast Festival
At the Space Theatre

The third and final night of Gorge 09 gave us Nicki Bloom’s Footsoilders presented by Real Time Collaborators and Stone/Castro. Bloom’s script was, I felt, the strongest of the three nights, with the most directed frame (even with the least descriptions and stage directions), and the one which I initially responded to the most, and this, in conjunction with the two more traditional theatre companies, strangely lead to a less exhilarating night of Gorge, but one that was fun nonetheless.

Footsoliders is set in a post-apocalyptic world where shoes have become currency, and the most valuable shoe of all is Reebok Pumps. Bash (Emma Beech / Merwan Stevens) and Cy (Sigh? Something completely unrelated?) (Antje Guenther / Nick Bennet) are footsoliders for The Boss, and in the play Bash shows Cy the Reebok Pumps he got his hands on – hypothesised to have cost “five, six years of work […] maybe $300,000” when new – which will make The Boss powerful beyond all others, now he has two pairs. Bash and Cy admire the shoes, planning their presentation, as they wait for The Boss. Someone in the audience commented that the script had a very Waiting For Godot-feel, and while there were tinges of that, I rather feel that’s a bit of a disservice to Beckett - Vladimir and Estragon were waiting a hell of a lot longer than ten minutes!

Real Time Collaborator’s production, directed by Tessa Leong, began even as we left the Space for the interval, and saw thongs lying around the lobby – the first one I saw I thought, “how could someone lose one thong?”, but as I saw more I realised their must be a connection to an upcoming interpretation! As many of the audience (including Bloom) noticed before the performances even began, four actors were listed in the program for RTC, with Craig Behenna and Hew Parham rounding out the cast as mute additional footsoliders; the four cast members were also devisors on the piece. Leong and RTC choose to expand on the absurdist-humour of Bloom’s script, with an audience member commenting on the Marx Brothers-feel to the characters, while Panham reminded me of a Woodley (of Lano and Woodley)-like comic. Emphasising the shoes-as-currency aspect of the script, the back half of the stage was littered with grey and white thongs, relieved when the uncut newspaper-roll curtains were ripped down. The emphasis of brand names was also shown in the design (with Clare Butler credited as Design Consultant), with Bash wearing Nike wristbands, and Cy an Adidas t-shirt. Behenna and Parham’s characters didn’t wear any brand name wear that I could see, further showing the ranking of the footsoilders.

In contrast to RTC, Stone/Castro, with Paulo Castro as director, chose to emphasis the violence implicated in the piece. Bash was shown to be severely mentally disturbed, jumping from a level of sanity, to hysterics, to fits; Stevens said he didn’t want you to look at the character and think, “hmm, he seems healthy.” While humour was still inherent in the piece, the play was much darker, contributed to through the eerie music by Ben Frost, although the volume of the sound was quite painful. Focal pieces of a gun and red material, with lighting on only a narrow strip of the stage added to the inherent darkness in Bloom’s script.

While each company chose to emphasis a different aspect of Bloom’s script, the frame work within which they performed were still quite similar, and there would be no mistaking they were working off the same script (unlike, say, the Friday night productions). The performances in S/C’s production were stronger and more polished than RTC, and the person I attended Saturday of Gorge with preferred the darker more polished S/C. I however, preferred the humour and heart of RTC, while thoroughly enjoying both. This year was my first experiencing Gorge, and I hope I get to experience it again soon.

* * *

In other news, the annoying question askers were out in full force last night. Just when I was ready to praise Brink’s screening process for audience members, last night happened. No, we don’t want to know what lead you to sitting in the theatre tonight. No, we do not need to know your life story and how that framed your experience of the play. Yes, we heard your question; we also heard the answer. Several times. No need to ask it again. And again. And again. Especially when the question is stupid, and the answer was “no.” Ask your question, and then sit down and shut up, I want to hear the cast and creatives, not you. This advice should also be used for audience members at Writers’ Week and the Festival of Ideas: Adelaide, you have been warned.

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