on now, Review

REVIEW | Kangaroo Stew is a hearty family drama that kicks off Blue Room Theatre’s 2021 programming with a wallop!

Review | Laura Money

Talk about a show that packs a punch! Kangaroo Stew written and performed by Zac James, directed by Bruce Denny and played at The Blue Room Theatre is the ultimate family story. It takes good, hard working people who are dedicated to each other and their sacred land and posits the question – what would happen if this was all taken away? Featuring a five-person cast of phenomenal actors, Kangaroo Stew takes you back to your roots and educates while entertaining – and it will probably leave you with a lump in your throat.

The set is dynamic, providing clear zones where each dramatic section occurs – Denny’s direction is smooth when each character moves from area to area alongside masterful lighting design from Peter Young. There are earth toned screens that demarcate the separate areas, a kitchen table with cupboards and hob in the heart of the stage as with the heart of the home, and a bedroom to the right for privacy that plays an important role throughout. Young’s contribution is highlighted during a dreamtime story in which actors move and dance in a sinister fashion behind the screens with a powerful light casting creepy shadows of the characters in the story to accompany Maitland Schnaars‘ hypnotic storytelling.

Schnaars plays John, father and husband of the struggling family. He is also dead. Returning guiding spirits are an integral part of Aboriginal culture and John’s spirit is interwoven into the story just as seamlessly as Dreaming and the spirit of the land are into culture. Cutting a dignified and sometimes solemn figure, Schnaars gently but firmly teaches country and story to his children. He jokes with his son, Jack (Micah Kickett) who shares banter with the cheekiest of grins, but is serious when addressing David (James) providing a gravity that cultural significance merits. Kickett and James share a brilliant chemistry that is every sibling relationship. They love each other fiercely but also have the capacity to hurt each other because of it. Jack sees David’s moving away as a betrayal – which is nothing compared to what is about to come.

At the heart of Kangaroo Stew is a strong bond and intense relationships. There is a beautiful moment between CJ Hampson and Rayma Morrison as mother and daughter in law that will leave you unsure if you should laugh or cry. The family’s utmost dedication to its newest member is heartwarming. Hampson plays the peacekeeper well, shifting seamlessly from playful language with Jack and respectful yet friendly tones with Lilly. However, it is Lilly’s relationship to John that is the most harrowing. Morrison’s Lilly is strong on the outside but falling apart with emotion inside. She shifts from capable, funny, caring matriarch to vulnerable, insecure, quiet alcoholic. Lilly drinks to ‘banish’ John’s spirit as she feels she can’t move on until he’s gone. Schnaars and Morrison share a touching moment that is so perfectly performed there isn’t a dry eye in the house.

Kangaroo Stew is wonderfully uplifting, a stunning insight into the everyday understanding of spirituality and culture. It’s connections to land and family are strong, tangible threads that prove that much like the stew itself, every element is different but when it comes together it works better than ever. And it’s a bloody good show, too!

Kangaroo Stew is playing at The Blue Room Theatre from 27th April – 8th May 2021. You can get your tickets HERE

Interview, on now

IN CONVERSATION | What’s in Kangaroo Stew? Find out with Director Bruce Denny as we talk about his latest Blue Room Theatre Production

Interview | Laura Money

Kangaroo Stew is a family drama that centres around Native Title, loss and grief, and the ways in which we all come together as one. It premieres at The Blue Room Theatre on 27th April 2021. We caught up with Director Bruce Denny to find out what it’s all about.

Denny has directed plays previous to this but Kangaroo Stew marks his Blue Room debut, he was assistant director on FIFO (Yirra Yaakin), independent co-op type theatre and will be directing for Yirra Yaakin’s Dating Black. He was just recently in The Sum of Us – so does being an actor give him any more insight into directing?

‘Well as a director you know what the actors are going through. You know all the nerves and the worries and the doubts and all that. And as an actor you think, ok it’s not just about me and my character, the director has to put the show together so it all balances out. As an actor you’re very quick to think ‘my character wouldn’t do that’ but as a director you think ‘oh actually, that relates to that because that’s what so and so said in page 2. I think it’s a good thing to cross over. I love being on stage.’

Interestingly, Denny’s journey to the stage is not your classic story. ‘When I went to school I wasn’t allowed to do drama … I auditioned in grade four for Oliver, the musical and the next week Dad took me out and enrolled me in football!’

It wasn’t until a well meaning neighbour connected to community theatre encouraged him to tread the boards: ‘I was fortunate enough I had a neighbour once who was involved in community theatre and they were looking for a sleazy Mexican card player for A Streetcar Named Desire and she said ‘yeah, you’d do it, Bruce.’ And yeah, I loved it and kept up with it after that.’

Of course there are many ways to get to where Denny is today ‘Yep, did community theatre for a while then an agent came and saw one of the shows and at that time I was a male model and got myself an agent and just went from job to job. I never went to WAAPA as such but I have done courses like stage combat and character and development’

‘I had a lot of good directors when I first started, one of them she taught me about owning the space and others teach you stagecraft and things as you go along.’

So what was his first Blue Room show?

‘A few years ago in the 600 seconds I did a monologue, about three or four years ago. I’ve always gone to the Blue Room to see shows, I have a place in the country I live in unless I’m at work – if I haven’t got work I go bush but I really love contemporary Australian theatre so I’ve always been a fan of the Blue Room. It’s the first time directing there but I have been in shows.’

What’s it like being at the Blue Room?

‘What I like about it is it’s a small space – it’s got a good feel about it. Because you’ve got usually an educated audience in the theatre, so they’re prepared to allow for experimental theatre, they’re a good bunch of people and the confined space suits a smaller play.’

Kangaroo Stew started out as a much larger production ‘Zac and I sat down and had to bring it back to what we could actually perform in the space that we had with the budget that we had as well. What’s the basic story line of what we want to tell.’

It’s ultimately a story about family so how does it feel directing a bunch of people who have to love each other every night?

‘[There are] five people on stage – the father John played by Maitland Schnaars – now he’s actually already dead, so you see him throughout the play, then his wife, his widow Lilly who is played by Aunty Raima, then his son Jack who stayed home who is played by Micah and then there’s David the son who left and has now returned, he’s played by Zac James the writer, and then we have his fiancé/love interest in CJ Hanson.’

‘There’s a lot of respect, well Maitland has a lot of respect for people because of his experience and his body of work, the new person is Micah, he’s done stand up comedy and this is his first time on stage and it’s a very supportive experience – myself and Maitland we sat down and had a yarn with him – he’s coming leaps and bounds and I’m sure this is not the last time you’ll se him in a show. There’s a real bond, they all look out for each other when you’re on the stage you are dependent on other people so you do need to be supportive of each other.’

It’s a family story – how important is aboriginality to the story?

‘Well Zac is Wangai, it’s a family story similar to a lot of people out there – they’re doing it tough and then they get the offer of royalties from a mine compared to the importance of culture. We covered this in FIFO as well, it’s an issue that’s affecting lot’s of communities – do we stay here living in poverty without proper chances for education or can we retain the culture and still get ahead. So it’s a modern story linking to the ancient past of beliefs – where do you compromise? It’s a subject that’s affecting many places now.’

‘We’ve got to tell our own stories. They’re the same stories as everyone else’s. I was involved in a play called Cracked a couple of years ago and that covered drug addiction and that can be a story about white fella, black fella – it’s a story that’s still affecting families now and that could be in any suburb. These stories, they’re our stories – I’m not trying to tell somebody else’s story. The movement now is really, ok our stories are as relevant as anybody else’s stories and we don’t have to just do this old stuff. Yeah, stories about poverty and doing it tough is not confined to one race, colour or creed. They’re modern stories – anyone can watch the importance of coming together as a family to make decisions … so it’s a story that anyone can take something from.’

‘We have included bits of culture in this one – spirits, language, a bit of dance, just bits of it to tell the story, to keep it grounded.’

What do you think the audience is going to get out of Kangaroo Stew?

‘I’d like to think they’ll get a better understanding of what’s out there. Mining and the remote areas, these things can have a big impact. So it’s an understanding of what people can go through in these areas – I know from living and working in the city it’s like ‘oh just leave it all in the ground, you know what I mean?’ And there’s something there that says we need work, we need jobs for our kids and other people say no dig it all up! And of course you can’t dig it all up because it’s important to our culture. So, it’s not as simple as people think. I think Zac has done a great job in saying hey, if we do this we could have this, we could have that, we can get proper health services and all that. I think Zac as a writer has done a great job because he’s not just one sided.’

‘In theatre I don’t always say I want the message to take this message away. I want to give them a show that they enjoy being in that room and that they want to be in that room again. When I normally get the actors together for rehearsing a show my general spiel is always to remember that you’re doing this for an audience. If we have an empty theatre, what’s the point of putting it on? So I usually try to direct so that either the audience are going to get something out of it or at least enjoy their night at the theatre.

It could be a comedy or it could be a drama. After The Sum of Us for instance I had a lot of people coming up to me after and telling me their stories. And I felt very honoured by that… what they did is want to hang around afterwards and share their stories and open up a bit and that to me is good live theatre. When you get that audience engagement and they’re prepared to have a yarn about it after. I’m one of those people, I go out after the show and I’m quite happy to talk to anybody who wants to talk to me about the show. I’m quite happy to talk about it because for the audience that’s part of their evening out as well. Especially somewhere like the Blue Room which has a nice little bar and an area you can talk, they’ve paid their money to see 60 minutes of theatre, but if you can extend that out by another half an hour feeling safe and comfortable to come up and say, oh we liked that or it wasn’t my cup of tea – that’s fine too. For me theatre is everything. I can remember when every play was three hours long and you just want to go home and go to bed after. These days it’s shorter – curtains up at 7pm, we finish at 8 and then another half an hour of talking – I mean they don’t have to hang around, they can go home to bed or they can have a yarn. I like an audience that feels comfortable enough to hang around.’

So, how does the dynamic change as the show develops?

‘You find you have the reading and everyone’s all fired up, then you go through the blocking process and the energy starts to drop, then you go into rehearsals and it becomes routine, then the first time they start playing with props things change a bit. Then costumes and all of a sudden things lift a peg. And then the lights and sound come in and you think, alright. Then you get a few people in the room and they react, they start laughing or something and all of a sudden the dynamic changes. Then you get to the opening night where some people get nervous and then you have the run of the show, so it does change dynamics but in a good way.’

Of course, for Denny directing is all about connection – to each other, to the words, to the space.

‘Last night I did an exercise where I put all of the actors in different parts of the room, so they weren’t near each other and turned off every single light in the room so it was total black. And I got them just to do a lines run. And two of the actors actually felt really emotional in a part they hadn’t really before. It was just them in the dark without visual props or movement even taken out of it, they couldn’t move they just had to do it in the dark and sit still. And that took it to a different dynamic when they did that.’

Kangaroo Stew is on at The Blue Room Theatre. This interview was conducted pre lockdown and restrictions. Please keep up to date on their website: blueroom.org.au

Review

REVIEW | Feeling Way too Good: Songs of Michael Buble | Lisa Woodbrook is happy and she knows it!

Review | Kieran Eaton

With a show title like Feeling Way too Good: Songs of Michael Buble you may get the impression that Michael Buble is reigniting his early 2000s hit career, to perform at Perth’s Crown Casino! However, the past twelve months have been uniquely different with the global COVID pandemic and we now have an opportunity to look at things differently. Why not try a larger-than-life Australian personality in Lisa Woodbrook to take this humungous challenge up? Enter the bubbly Woodbrook herself – hailing from WA nail the classic tunes with gusto.

Woodbrook is comfortable in her own skin, adorning a bright pink suit and strutting the stage with comical flamboyance, she wins the audience over instantly with just a smile. Her voice is strongly projected throughout the dark surrounds of the casino’s former Eve Night Club and whether you agree or disagree with what she says – she certainly keeps your attention with personal observations, fluttered with daggy jokes that keep the night light and jovial. Woodbrook has the backing of a vast array of musicians playing big band style that back her so easily you barely notice their presence! They are cheekily introduced by the star of the show, but these instrumentalists are comfortable enough to give cheek back.

The set list is varied and still Woodbrook can link all the songs with creativity, including using a bunch of lemons as props for the old saying ‘if life gives you lemons’. When you hear this multi-talented singer, you forget that you are listening to Buble songs and that is power of Woodbrook’s gift for owning the stage and songs. If you think about it, Buble was the master of covering classic songs such as ‘Come Fly With Me’ and making them his own and this local gal made good does the same with her own imagination and interpretation. Woodbrook also embraces the crowd with little interaction that turn to weird heckles that she loves and handles with excellent humour. The only flashiness is some use of the smoke machine that creates an aura of mystique around the performer. The good vibes of the night are absorbed into your body that keeps you happy, even if the songs are not your cup of tea.

Feeling Way to Good Songs of Michael Buble is a wonderful cabaret hour of entertainment that will be leaving you wanting more and so go check this show out wherever you can.

Review

REVIEW | The Swing Sisters & the Boogie Woogie Bugle Band | Swing into a retro night of great music at Crown Live Sessions

Review | Kieran Eaton

Does your heart feel like it does not fit into this crazy modern world? Well, let’s embrace the old classics with a bit of swing! And who better to celebrate the era mostly around the 30s, 40s and 50s than a trio of groovy female vocalists of Zalia Joi, Samantha Hicks and Amy Ehlers. Dressed in vintage outfits, be mesmerised as you are transported to this simpler time.

Apart from this glamorous trio, The Swing Sisters & Boogie Woogie Bugle Band consists of musicians using the big band instruments of brass and percussion and their love of playing is exemplified as they play the tunes with ease opening with a great mood setter with, In The Mood.  Joi, Hicks and Ehlers then explain the importance of mood raising songs during war times and it gives you a good insight into the role of music and entertainment in keeping spirits high. These explanations work seamlessly with the transition to multiple songs – sixteen songs in total for this hour of non-stop uplifting! The costumes are very well designed with their bright blue dresses grabbing your attention from the back of the audience. They even dress a bit flashier for the finale leaving the Boogie Woogie Bugle Band to go solo for a bit!  Their stylish choreography is straight out of the Andrews Sisters playbook and they look great. When they describe the songs, you can feel their love of the era that makes you nostalgic – even if you did not exist in that time! The knowledge you gain from this trio is insightful and natural, so any little stumble is met with warmth. There is realism in the performance with no use of special effects, rather simply good sounds and plenty of charisma.

What creates the charm for this act is their energy. You feel their enthusiasm and embrace their instructions, like clicking your fingers to a song. There is good balance between genuine down to earth personalities with strong, efficient professionalism. Set in the big surrounds of the former Eve Nightclub at Perth’s Crown Casino, you can chill with a beer or wine in your hand and still tap your toes at the same time! Chill or boogie, it’s up to you because this easy-going night of entertainment will leave you smiling with contentment that you have experienced a night of relaxed swinging to your hearts content!

The Swing Sisters & the Boogie Woogie Bugle Band played at Crown live sessions in April 2021.

Review

REVIEW | Sweetwood – Legendary Hits of Fleetwood Mac | Awesome sounds hit Crown Live Sessions

Review | Laura Money

You can go your own way as long as it’s directly to Crown Live Sessions to see Sweetwood – Legendary Hits of Fleetwood Mac! Sweetwood are a five-piece band that play the fantastic music of Fleetwood Mac. You’ll have ‘dreams’ about this phenomenal cover band who are certainly bringing the absolute coolness of Fleetwood Mac in their heyday to well-deserved standing ovations.

Zalia Joi channels Stevie Nicks with her wiccan outfits and earth mother mannerisms. It’s clear that Zalia’s focus is on the music as she lets it thrum and dance around her – complete with ribboned tambourine, Zalia almost has an out of body experience soulfully singing the hell out of ‘Gypsy’ and ‘Rhiannon.’ They have the vibe down to the big hair and 70s effortless style – Sweetwood look like they should only ever appear in polaroid photos, and if you squint it’s just like seeing the original line-up for real! What really stands out is the sheer musicianship that everyone possesses – each member of Sweetwood is as talented as their famous counterpart.

The set list is a diverse mix of pop hits, heartbreaking tear-jerkers, and fierce bangers that shows off the range of the band and makes you realise just how varied Fleetwood Mac’s sound actually was. Killing it with ‘Tusk’ as the opening number, Sweetwood keep the grit and guts of their music with ‘The Chain’ and ‘Don’t Stop’ with Stewart Herbertson absolutely slaying as lead guitarist and rock God stand-in. His harmonies with Zalia are phenomenal and definitely the cause of many goosebumps. Of course, there have to be some iconic pieces and Zalia and the band nail every note of ‘Little Lies’ and even reference Stevie’s solo career with ‘White Winged Dove’ – Zalia resplendent in a white feathered cape. It’s this amazing energy that just elevates Sweetwood from tribute band to pop/rock phenomenon!

Sweetwood perform all over Perth throughout the year, so keep your eye out and don’t miss out on the full experience. It’s an entire thing – not just some music but an immersion into a particular time and place, you’ll be stamping your feet and singing along and begging for more at the end.

You can check out Sweetwood on their Facebook page HERE