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REVIEW: Laika: A Staged Radio Play

Is there anything more nostalgic than good old-fashioned radio? It conjures up memories of a bygone era – of innocence and insular worlds, unscathed by globalisation. An era before the space race – when people eagerly tuned in to the wireless for all of their news – fake or not.

Second Chance Theatre bring all the highs and lows of the Soviet Union’s space program to life using the staged radio play as its medium. Radio plays are seen as a bit antiquated now, they have been surpassed by superior technology that garnered far better press and reputations (I’m looking at you television!) It is a rather fitting medium to use for a story about Russia’s space program – a program that achieved so many firsts and utilised ground-breaking technology and wonderful minds, yet have been all but forgotten, left in the wake of ‘One small step for man…’ and all that jazz.

Laika: A Staged Radio Play is the brainchild of writer/director Scott McArdle – a Blue Room Theatre stalwart – and is meticulously researched. McArdle’s deft hand takes five friends sheltering from a storm in a creepy abandoned building and creates a clever and engaging piece that scrutinises the Soviet Union’s space program. The script appears simple and slightly mocking at first, but McArdle’s masterful writing immerses you into the world of the final frontier. The group stumble upon an old radio set up for broadcasting – complete with sound boards and various other tools for the live foley. Conveniently, there are also five scripts and the storm isn’t about to let up any time soon!

As each of the friends pick their characters – with a few jokes thrown in, Arielle Gray defends her role as the sixty year old man, Sergei Korolev, Andrew David attempts a Russian accent and is playfully relegated to stick to the sound – the mood shifts and mid-century Russia is brought to life. Taryn Ryan reads Natalya Volkov, a highly intelligent young astrophysicist. The play starts on a dark note, Volkov and her colleague, Vasily Mishin (Daniel Buckle) are working on a launch that sees Laika, the first dog in space. As things start to go wrong, Korolev demands that they mute the feed, so as to not hear the dying breaths of the dog. This is Volkov’s first foray into the corruption of the program.

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Image: David Cox Media

The jokes and shtick wear off as the action heats up. Volkov is a wonderfully rich character. Ryan plays her with poise and dignity – her voice and tone strike the perfect balance between gravitas and vulnerability. She is strong and any vulnerability is only expressed when alone or with the hotshot cosmonaut – Yuri Gagarin (St John Cowcher.) Gagarin is brash and showy, he embodies the Americana that the Russians tried so desperately to oppose and stands in contrast to Mishin, who is seen as more of a thinker. Yet, it is with Gagarin that Volkov reveals her most poetic thoughts. She desires to escape the confines of her disabled body, her female form, her earthly grounded being and jettison out to see the stunning thin blue line that rings the earth. Ryan deserves special mention for her absolute embodiment of Volkov. She speaks her role with reverence and a slight melancholy. As her character becomes more involved, so too does Ryan. She captures the hopes and dreams of an intelligent bright spark and does so with aplomb.

There are some liberties taken with history here – Gagarin passed away in a different manner than depicted, and there is an implication that the first Sputnik missions were secretly manned and then covered up. In my opinion, this takes a speculative work from pedestrian to extraordinary. The corruption and need to be the best (literally on top of the world) is manifested in Gray’s Korolev by a hard line and grim determined jaw. At times, it seems Volkov is the only sane person in an ambitious and morally defunct team. When Mishin fails to speak out against the problems, Volkov spirals into despair and abject hopelessness. The concept of manipulating history to fit an agenda is deep – it exposes the role of the media and how the story is spun. If history is written by the victors, who’s to say that this didn’t happen?

WHEN: 12th – 30th September 2017 | 7:00pm

WHERE: The Blue Room Theatre | Northbridge

INFO: Tickets $18 – $28 | Duration 70 minutes | Lockout | Suitable 15+

LINK: http://blueroom.org.au/events/laika-a-staged-radio-play/

 

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REVIEW: The Illusionists

Magic acts come in many forms – there’s the showy over-the-top, bells and whistles affair, the old-style homage to traditional tricks and charming sleight of hand, the escapology that defies death, and of course the people who can read your minds and tell you what you had for breakfast two days ago even if you don’t remember it yourself. (Those are my favourite!) The Illusionists has all of these, and more.

Opening with laser-lights, big screens, flashy music and all the hype of a Blockbuster movie trailer, The Illusionists promises big things – and it delivers! Our host is Jewish comedian and mentalist, ‘The Trickster’ Harrison Greenbaum and he is super sharp and savvy. In all honesty, Perth audiences are notoriously hard to impress – a feature that Greenbaum deftly turns back on the crowd. He is flashy, brazen and a little cocky – but he has a right to be – he does some pretty impressive predicting with a great sense of humour to boot.

Next come the flashy bits – ‘The Deceptionist’ James More impales himself on a sword, ramping up the old stand-by of sword swallowing. He is also the last act – performing a daring escape complete with fire and nail-biting timing.

‘The Inventor’ Kevin James sits somewhere between flashy and traditional. He wears the white coat and goggles of a mad scientist as he beams out at a captivated audience. His charm transcends the stage as he performs amazing sleight of hand tricks – your jaw will drop as he saws a man clean in half and there isn’t a mirror or whiff of smoke to be seen.

Image courtesy Illusionists

When it comes to charm, no-one compares to Raymond Crowe ‘The Unusualist.’ What is an unusualist? Crowe uses traditional showmanship with an obvious love of his craft. He creates a hilarious ventriloquist act – no dummy required, unless you count the audience ‘volunteers,’ performs a wonderful card trick (I still don’t know how!) and provides a beautiful moment of repose with his homage to shadow-puppetry. Crowe is simply charming.

It is another quiet moment that ekes out the true magic of the show – the harmonious and elegant Al Halim aka ‘The Manipulator’ takes card tricks and strips away all the pizzazz and tackiness to create a beautiful dance. He pulls cards from thin air and does so with the stillness and simplicity of a ballerina.

Most people know the name Houdini – but they should know the name Jonathan Goodwin, ‘The Daredevil.’ Goodwin takes Houdini’s famous escape from a straightjacket and turns up the heat…literally! Setting himself on fire, he remains cool under pressure – the audience squirms more. Later, Goodwin’s assistants are in the firing line when he performs an act that you have to see to believe. I felt myself unconsciously retreating in my seat, pressing back as far as I could go!

For me, it’s all about the mentalist experience. Colin Cloud ‘The Deductionist’ is flawless. With a background in criminology, Cloud will have you sweating with his amazing powers of what can only be described as devil-worshipping supernatural mind-reading. All jokes aside, Cloud drops jaws like no other. He knows stuff you couldn’t possibly know about a stranger (hell, I still don’t know some of that stuff about my partner!) Stripping back the wonder, it is clear that he is a keen observer – he even teaches you a little about his technique, if you care to listen. I’ve got to be honest, though, I have no explanation for his major trick – there are too many variables for him to get the answer he does!

Beginning with a flash and a bang, and ending the same way, the big illusion is performed, it’s so good it literally puts you on the edge of your seat. Of course, Halim’s epilogue sparks the wonder and true magic the evening is based on. So, yes The Illusionists is a big, flashy show, but it is also one with deep respect and admiration for the elegance of magic. Go and see it – there’s something for everyone.

 

WHEN: 22nd June – 2nd July 2017

WHERE: Crown Theatre |Burswood

INFO: Duration 2 hours | 20 minute interval | suitable all ages | flashing light effects

LINK: http://www.ticketmaster.com.au/the-illusionists-direct-from-broadway-crown-theatre-perth-burswood-wa/venueartist/304372/2355377

 

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REVIEW: Greenwicks

Limelight Theatre in Wanneroo has a long history of amateur theatre in Perth. They are on of the leading community theatres in the area, and have helped launch the careers and provide the training and groundwork for many Perth actors working today. All of the people involved should be highly proud of what this gem of the northern suburbs has achieved.

Greenwicks is the latest in a long line of musicals the theatre company has staged. Written and Directed by duo John McPherson and James Marzec, it follows the antics of employees in lockdown at Greenwicks Supermarket. With three individual plot lines that all come to a head together in the end, the boring supermarket is examined under the harsh fluorescent lights and given the showbiz treatment.

The ridiculous and over-the-top managerial team set out to catch a thief. They all have their quirks, from the grumpy manager whose eyebrows seem to be permanently knitted together in dissatisfaction, to the stickler for the rules head manager – and it is these personalities that come together to figure out the mystery. The villain of the piece is Jude – a hard-done-by grocery boy who feels the patriarchal entitlement most men do when a woman he has a crush on decides to date his friend. He gets a sub-par and paltry villain song which actively recruits a team of minions. It’s a great concept, just not quite punchy enough.

What McPherson and Marzec no doubt consider to be a clever criticism of male attitudes towards women, the ‘checkout chicks’ (who are consistently referred to as ‘girls’) have a revenge plot-line – they attempt to take down their lecherous manager, Kevin. It is disappointing that Kevin is the most ridiculous caricature of creepy pervert when the opportunity to highlight a wider institutionalised sexist attitude had presented itself. Apart from a throwaway line in the checkout girl song, this issue is not even addressed.

The musical numbers are big – there is complicated choreography, belt-it-out moments, and feather boas galore. It might be wiser to focus on the singing, rather than the dancing as the largeness of the numbers, at times, subtracts from the action. There are genuinely funny moments, the staging is impeccable, and the singing is good. Overall, Greenwicks is the perfect vehicle for an amateur theatre group to showcase their talents. All of the friends and family of the cast and crew should be proud, as they serve up a solid show – considering that these people all have day jobs and are not professional actors or singers, it is a job well done.

Greenwicks played at Limelight Theatre in Wanneroo from 7th – 17th June 2017

 

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REVIEW: 10,000

We’ve all been there – trapped in a video game – ‘just one more level’ – ‘I’ve just got to defeat this boss’ – ‘Hold my drink, I’ve just put my Sim in the pool and deleted the ladder.’ Even if the limit of your video game experience is watching Frogger get splattered by a car-shaped bunch of pixels, it’s hard not to empathise with the premise of 10,000. A.J (Tristan McInnes) is a game reviewer – he spends copious amounts of time on the couch playing and reviewing video games in a bid to carve out a niche in the video game journalism world. His new career, however seems to come at the expense of his marriage. Edie (Jessica Messenger – co-writer) is the frustrated wife who has reached the end of her tether. Convinced to give their relationship one last chance at the flip of a coin, Edie joins A.J in the virtual world of the game 10,000.

A black floor with white grid is the arena for game creation. A.J and Edie’s avatars stand in readiness as the audience file in, about to start the game. And so begins the witty banter and, at times, clever social commentary about gender, parenthood, and relationships. Framed in the unnatural world of video games, it becomes apparent that A.J has given himself the advantage. As the ‘noob’ Edie has difficulty getting the movements right (Messenger is hilarious as she move haltingly across the stage), A.J’s warrior avatar deftly and casually kills a few aliens and explains the plot.

McInnes is so funny as the heroic warrior in the cut-scenes, down to the cheesy speech pattern and ridiculous parody of American voice-overs. Although dressed up in a unique setting, the dialogue is still pretty cliche. At the heart of the work is a relationship in crisis, although the role-reversal is a welcome touch. A.J is struggling to get his business off the ground and be a stay-at-home Dad. When Edie comes home from work to find the house a mess and no dinner, she hits the roof and assumes that he has been lazy, rather than hard at work in a job that doesn’t require a physical office. It’s a nice flipping of the ‘mummy blogger’ trope but makes some of the dialogue a little too wooden and banal. It is also clear that A.J is a far more developed character than Edie.

10,000 Production [Picture by Esther Longhurst] 6 of 6

Image credit: Esther Longhurst

The play progresses along with the game, and the couple’s conflict reaches its apex…and that is when it starts to get serious. Transported into the very game that serves to save their marriage, the couple find themselves separated and forced to interact with the worst cliches of video game machismo. It is clear that Messenger and fellow writer, Nick MaClaine have a great affection for the video games they parody – there is also a strong theme of gender identity and equality. 10,000 cleverly hovers the magnifying glass over Plato’s cave and attempts to separate reality from fantasy – well, the ‘fantasy’ that is the cultural norm. Will they succeed in the game? Will they resolve their issues? Will it be a wonderful send up of video gaming? You’ll have to press start to play and find out yourself.

10,000 played at Subiaco Arts Centre as part of the Subiaco Theatre Festival from 14th – 17th June 2017

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REVIEW: The Irresistible

After my interview with Director Zoe Pepper and performers Adriane Daff and Tim Watts, I still wasn’t entirely sure what The Irresistible was going to be about. All I knew was that it borrowed from film conventions, uses voice-changing microphones, and uses a lot of smoke. After seeing the show, I understand why the creatives were so reserved in giving away too much. It’s always hard to review a show without letting the cat out of the bag – so bear with me. All I can say is this: go and see The Irresistible, it is a truly remarkable play.

Jonathon Oxlade takes his cue from the script’s wonderful borrowing of filmic conventions in creating his set – an hermetically sealed plastic box that contains not only all the action, but the copious tendrils of smoke that weave their way through, at times obscuring the actor’s faces and bodies. Walking into the performance space at PICA, with the plastic screen rendered white from the smoke behind it, we feel the anticipation as keenly as though we are waiting for a movie to start.

As the lights dim, it is through this misty smoke that Daff and Watts’ modified voices come through the speakers as a pilot’s pre-flight announcement, complete with too many ‘aaahhs’ and it’s hilarious. This sets the tone for the work. Even though some serious and quite emotional things happen, there is a wonderful sense of irony and pisstake throughout the dialogue and delivery. They both wear khaki pants and turtlenecks – blank slates. Watts is brilliant as the passive-aggressive Eric – just a simple Ranger trying to mete out some justice in this world, and Daff strikes the balance between funny and creepy six-year-old perfectly.

The microphones are a wonderful toy to play with, but they allow for a lot of exploration and bucking of conventions that can be confronting at times. Daff playing both the stripper and the man/client seeing her is a bold and challenging move. She says pretty awful and demeaning things as the client, while sashaying and dancing provocatively in a glass box – staring straight out into the audience. This clever juxtaposition and deliberate pushing of the fourth wall is brought home as Daff doesn’t even attempt to conceal that it is her speaking.

The Irresistible explores issues of gender, familial relationships, identity, and our ability to ignore our subconscious. The central story of a woman who is in denial about an incident that occurred in her childhood, resonates on so many levels. April and her sister, Bridget both reacted differently – one in denial, the other in pain. April’s husband Eric reacts in anger, and young Cassie in fascination. The Irresistible takes these familiar reactions – ones that have been sold to us as tropes by movies and television for decades – and deconstructs them on a subconscious and psychological level. It strips down our feelings and presents them back to the audience with unapologetic, brutal honesty.

I know that The Irresistible still seems to be shrouded in mystery, but go see it and then you’ll realise why I couldn’t give the game away.

 

When: 14th – 24th June 2017 | 7:30pm

Where: PICA (Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts) | Northbridge

Info: Tickets $26 – $32 (Earlybird special $20) | Duration 75 minutes | Suitable 15+ | Smoke effects

Link: http://pica.org.au/show/the-irresistible/