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REVIEW: Roald Dahl’s The Twits

By Laura Money

Spare Parts Puppet Theatre are back in their refurbished home in Fremantle and are bringing you the razztwizzling wonderful show Roald Dahl’s The Twits. Based on the clever and hilarious book by acclaimed children’s author, Roald Dahl, The Twits tells the story of the ugly and horrible old couple – Mr and Mrs Twit – who terrorise the local bird population and each other in a series of horrendous pranks and capers that ultimately lead to a rather sticky end.

Director, Michael Barlow: “Mr and Mrs Twit are terrible people but very funny characters and it’s so satisfying seeing Muggle-Wump the Monkey and the Roly-Poly Bird outwit them. Roald Dahl has a special gift for making fun of adults who treat children unfairly and our heroes can only win by breaking the rules and playing a few tricks of their own. As laugh-out-loud entertaining as The Twits is, it is a great show for encouraging us all to think about how we treat each other.”

Performers Jessica Harlond-Kenny and Geordie Crawley are truly wonderful performers of children’s theatre. Their witty banter and over-the-top physical movements are the perfect for gaining giggles and gasps from all the children in the crowd. They put so much into the silly and frankly, ugly Twits – from farcical trumpeting to menacing laughter. Crawley’s hilarious accent is at its peak when gleefully singing the bird pie song and Harlond-Kenny has such nuanced and emotional facial expression as Muggle-Wump the monkey, that one could be forgiven for not noticing the puppet.

The puppetry is outstanding – Mr and Mrs Twit’s masks are intricate and dynamic. The design is quite urban and reminiscent of a Picasso portrait, without any of its beauty. Crawley and Harlond-Kenny manipulate the masks in a way that is playful and exaggerated – using their bodies for the close up scenes and the funny little puppet-bodies that dangle beneath the masks for when they are far away. Muggle-Wump the monkey is a classic puppet with articulated wooden tail and squeaky body, and the Roly-Poly bird is just charming in its simple design. Consisting only of two parts, Crawley really out does himself flouncing around as the haughty bird.

credit Jessica Wyld

Spare Parts Puppet Theatre have a well-deserved reputation for bringing intelligent and emotionally responsible works to children who are encouraged to engage in large political and social ideas. Roald Dahl’s The Twits is the perfect vehicle to elicit empathy and a feeling of social justice. The characters are horrible – they really represent the worst of humanity – they exploit animals, cruelly trap birds for food, are genuinely nasty to each other, and even hate children! The brave actions of Muggle-Wump and the Roly-Poly bird highlight to children that anyone can stand up for what they believe in, and might even inspire them to do so.

The Twits is a ringbeller adventure of scrottiness and goodness, rebellion and justice. The show’s gloriumptious blend of comedy and puppetry is the perfect way to have a whoopsy wiffling time this summer with the whole family.

WHEN: 8 – 27 January 2018 | Various times

WHERE: Spare Parts Puppet Theatre | Fremantle

INFO: Tickets $23 – $25 | Duration 50 mins | Perfect for ages 5+ | Q&A after each show

LINK: http://www.sppt.asn.au/events/the-twits/

 

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REVIEW: The Hostage

By Laura Money

Mentor and theatre-maker, Tim Brain has created a rollercoaster of a play complete with all of the thriller tropes – women held against their will, medical experimentation, abusive captors, and every twist and turn imaginable. He works with four incredibly talented students – some of them only first years – who created and devised The Hostage as a project together. This collaborative process shines through in the final product – a comprehensive piece of theatre that tells its story in a concise and economic manner.

Borrowing heavily from the thriller genre on screen, the audience is taken on a journey they should be familiar with. The set is simple – three bare-bulbed industrial looking lights, only one spotlight lit, a young girl tied to a basic metal chair, and a rocking track blasting from a transistor radio in the corner. Straight out of a Tarrantino movie, the girl (Melissa Escobar) screams a blood curdling scream, and bucks wildly against the chair – eventually breaking free and managing to turn off the music. This whole scene sets the tone for the entire work. It’s such a raw reaction – Escobar’s performance would not be out of place in a Hitchcock or Tarrantino movie. She gives everything to her reaction, and it’s not forced or over the top.

After discovering that she is not alone, Escobar is confronted by another girl in identical shift-like clothing (Ella Ewart.) Their clash is violent and explosive – neither performer holds back – they scream and shout and argue in an indistinguishable high-pitched wail – their voices intertwining in animalistic shrieks. After the two victims calm down, they enter a cycle of confusion and guarded dialogue – they try to remember who they are and how they got there. Repetition of dialogue is key. The same refrain and questions are repeated in an endless loop of frustration. At times the delivery is reflective, others angry – but each time we garner a little more information.

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The audience is kept in the dark as much as the girls. Each time the door opens, we glimpse two large male figures – Jason Tolje and Jacob Murphy – who eventually menace the girls in different fashions. Particular praise goes to Murphy who walks the delicate line of torturer and carer in his tender facial expressions. Tolje is an imposing figure, yet resists leaning on his physicality to drive his character development. There are two power dynamics occurring here – one between the women and one between the men, and oftentimes ne’er the twain shall meet. With so many twists and turns, and repetition as a motif, it is difficult to see too much character development, however, the sharp and gritty script allows for more details of the characters to be revealed.

Brain said that he wanted to create a theatrical piece that spoke to the thriller genre. The Hostage is a fond homage to it, complete with all the elements that could only be found in the movies. Where The Hostage is successful is in building suspense through good pacing, long stares that don’t collapse into the absurd, and a set and lighting design that has taken its cue direct from the aesthetics of the greatest thrillers. It’s a visceral experience that captures the spirit of the genre and renders it more immediate – you can see the sweat dripping, the veins pulsing – you can feel the vibrations of the blood-curdling screams, and your heart hammering wildly against your chest. Not since The Sixth Sense has there been such a subtle and intelligent re-imagining of the thriller genre – twist notwithstanding.

WHEN: 23 – 25 November 2017 | 7:30pm

WHERE: Studio 411, Murdoch University (Carpark 4, 90 South Street, Murdoch)

INFO: Tickets $15 | Duration 40 minutes | Horror themes | Adult language | Suitable 15+

LINK: https://www.trybooking.com/book/event?eid=326472

 

 

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REVIEW: Black Milk

By Laura Money

Hand In Hand Theatre end their 2017 season with a clever and intense play about the harsh effects of capitalism in post-communist Russia – how it can benefit society but how it mostly just tears them apart. Director Luke Gratton introduces Black Milk wearing a black coat and jeans, and brown boots. He describes the set in a cliche but consistent Russian accent – a run-down train station complete with uncaring tickets saleswoman and drunk man asleep on a bench. And so begins the play – it has an urban legend, fairy-tale quality in its telling, by introducing us, we expect to learn something in this cautionary tale.

For an amateur theatre group, the set is brilliantly designed. Justin Mosel-Crossley creates a realistic Russian train platform with old park benches, peeling painted panels complete with graffiti and posters, and a realistic looking ticket desk. The costuming by Ash Spring is perhaps a little less comprehensive, as it is difficult to tell which era this work is set. The main characters look great as chavs and the peasants are poor, with headscarves and whatever they can get but it does seem a little confused.

The dark comedy opens with the arrival of Lyovchik (Philip Hutton) and his heavily pregnant wife, Poppet (Sjaan Lucas). Lyovchik’s tracksuit and Poppet’s penchant for leopard skin really complement their characters well. Hutton and Lucas both adopt English ‘geezer’ accents, which only slip occasionally, well suited to their sleazy salesman characters. They argue hammer and tong and even manage to wake up the old drunk in the bench. These two are wonderful together – they really have chemistry. Their banter reveals a toxic relationship that will come back to haunt them at the end of the show. 

Despite fighting with each other, they show a united front against the ticket seller (Kylie Sturgess) who probably has the largest character development. Sturgess is quite good, she presents a gruff and knowing exterior but later reveals herself to be a deep thinker. She has perhaps, picked the wrong accent – it is incongruous to the character and some of her points would have more impact if she slowed down but otherwise Sturgess has created quite an endearing character. 

On accents – Black Milk is clearly set in Russia. It is full of Russian names. I can suspend disbelief if all of the characters adopted an English accent (like in Les Miserables) but inconsistencies with some English, some Aussie and the two actors capable of a Russian accent just seems to tarnish the show’s professionalism. 

Black Milk explores the depths of humanity and just how cruel or kind we can be to each other. It highlights that no person is black and white but also proves the old adage that a leopard can’t change his spots. It’s a great end to a strong season from Hand In Hand Theatre

WHEN: 16-18 November 2017

WHERE: Studio 411, Murdoch University 

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REVIEW: Let The Right One In

By Laura Money

Let The Right One In marks the highly anticipated Black Swan State Theatre Company directorial debut for new Artistic Director, Clare Watson – and let me tell you, it’s one that is under a lot of scrutiny. The tone of the production not only reflects the past season, but anticipates the standard going forward into 2018. Let The Right One In is a dark and brooding masterpiece that is not afraid to confront you with hard-hitting issues, and viscera! It’s unapologetic about making you uncomfortable but at its heart, speaks to the very real emotions of love and fear. Plus, it has fake blood.

Watson’s vision is boldly ambitious – Bruce McKinven‘s three-storey set looms in the foreground of The Heath Ledger Theatre’s stage – giving the audience no choice in where to look. McKinven is no stranger to large, impressive sets having created the stages for BSSTC’s Switzerland and Next To Normal among others. This reads like a movie screen – it features nine windows with closable black screens that allow for the play to be presented in bitesized vignettes as each screen opens. It also becomes the screen for projected images of blood and gore that take the scale of the piece from intimate to in-your-face.

Each mini set, from living room to school locker room, sweet shop to train carriage references the play’s cinematic roots. The Swedish movie, based on the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist features dark and grubby interiors and clothing that stand out in stark contrast to the bright snow of the Swedish woods. The Nordic, creepy tone is set by projecting falling snow and trees over the vast black ‘screen’ provided. McKinven’s costuming is subtle and effective – Oskar (Ian Michael) screams victim in his tiny gym shorts and clingy white t-shirt as his bullies Rory O’Keefe and Clarence Ryan seem to pull the look off in the way that ‘king of the hill’ jocks can. There is a clear 80s vibe in the costumes – but not the brash and over the top cliches, it’s more subtle – almost timeless, like the tale itself.

Sophia Forrest and Ian Michael. Let_The_Right_One_In-43. Photo credit Daniel J Grant

Touted as ‘Romeo and Juliet with fangs,’ Let The Right One In brings together an unlikely pairing – Oskar feels isolated from anyone who loves him. Constantly on the run from merciless bullies and confused by a cloying mother (Alison Van Reeken) and a distant father (Maitland Schnaars), he attempts to navigate life via puzzles and sweets. When Eli (Sophia Forrest) first meets him, Oskar is fantasizing about stabbing his bullies and calls them the very names they taunt him with. Eli looks on curiously and studiously. She lurks in the shadows in a grubby hoodie and denim shorts despite the snow (Oskar is lovably wearing a bobble-topped beanie.)

Michael makes his debut with BSSTC, but has been acting for a while, despite being so young. He brings a warmth and optimism to Oskar, he is so endearing your heart wrenches to see him being so savagely bullied. He his guarded at first when speaking to Eli (as he hasn’t got the measure of her just yet) but gives so much of his heart to her, it’s so beautiful to watch. Michael’s naivety shines as he giggles about ‘sleeping together’ and gets caught up by Eli, who he quite clearly wishes to impress when laughing at her racist taunts. Forrest’s portrayal of Eli is perfectly haunting. Another debut for BSSTC, she embodies the character so fully, it is hard to separate the girl from the beast. Eli hovers above Oskar, head cocked as though trying to work him out like the Rubix cube and puzzles he so enjoys. Forrest’s glare is intense – she intimidates everyone she encounters with her presence. It’s more than just intense glances and otherworldly stares – Forrest manipulates her body masterfully scaling the entire set and leaping on her victims with the grace and elegance of a large cat.

Sophia Forrest. Let_The_Right_One_In-20. Photo credit Daniel J Grant

Despite having pretty dark and sinister overtones – Eli’s symbiotic relationship with the pedophile Hakan, remarkably and subtly played by Steve Turner is disturbing to say the least, the physical violence – they do not hold back in the brutality meted out to their murder victims, Rachel Dease‘s visceral cracks and groans as necks break causing audible gasps from the crowd, the ugly and unnecessary racism, and especially the horrendous bullying that culminates in the ultimate cruelty – there is a nostalgic vibe of fondness. Not to mention a soundtrack that will get you moving. Let The Right One In takes the quiet optimism of the 80s – especially economically – and lets it bubble under the surface. In parts, the energy can barely be contained – bubbling away under the surface.

Stylistically, this is a wonderful leap forward. It has everything that a sophisticated, cutting edge theatre company should have – a love story, blurred lines concerning consent, grey areas as to who is a hero and a villain, bullying and power struggles, and an ambitious but intelligent design. Watson says her focus was always on the love story and growing friendship between the characters, and that does mean that the ultimate climax of the show – the pool scene – is somewhat glossed over. In terms of impact, though, it has been a long time since I sat in a theatre and felt my pulse quicken and my breathing get shallower. Let The Right One In gets it right. It takes the cinematic and styles it for the stage – which is where horror started, after all.

WHEN: 11 November – 3 December 2017

WHERE: Heath Ledger Theatre | State Theatre Centre WA

INFO: Tickets $34 – $87.50 | Suitable 15+ | Adult and horror themes

LINK: https://www.bsstc.com.au/plays/let-the-right-one-in

 

 

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REVIEW: Unveiling: Gay Sex For Endtimes

By Laura Money

There are certain things in life I never thought I’d see: a naked woman wearing a strap-on beating a naked man while being covered in semen and blood like substances poured by a naked woman in a locust mask is definitely a scenario I couldn’t have dreamed up. But the wonderful minds of Renegade Productions are used to thinking outside the box – in fact, they explode out of the box in a swarm of brilliance that deserves to be admired. The Blue Room Theatre is one of those transformative spaces that adopts the mood and style of whatever production is thrown at it, and Unveiling: Gay Sex For Endtimes slams itself into the Blue Room in a bloody and soaking mess.

It’s a stunning example of creative collaboration and what can happen when performers and devisers have a strong theme and message. Clear plastic sheeting protects the walls but not the floor as the audience files past a raised platform and the aforementioned locus-headed nude woman (Michelle Aitken) – projected in large oppressive writing onto the wall above and surrounding the stage is a quote from the Book of Revelation. It speaks of the grapes of wrath and end of days. What follows are several repetitive frames that loosely follow the story of a young man concerned about AIDS, a young woman mirroring Dorothy’s journey in The Wizard of Oz, and homosexuals coming to terms with their sexual desires and fantasies.

A conversation about blood test results and how ‘it might not mean anything’ – clearly a reference to having either an STD or the worst case scenario and biggest fear for homosexual men in particular – AIDS, is a refrain performed at regular intervals throughout the performance. It starts out conversationally – Andrew Sutherland and Jacinta Larcombe discuss the issue as if talking over coffee, however their bodies are telling a different story – Larcombe straddles a Monty Python-esque rocking horse and casually sips from a hen’s night wine glass while Sutherland kneels at a bucket of water. Larcombe proceeds to demonstrate her power over Sutherland by spilling her wine over his head and body. It’s all about power. The conversation returns throughout – spoken by different characters in different positions, finally being hysterically shouted as if in a stream of conciousness by the locust figure – almost mocking the serious nature of these very real concerns. Safety concerns among the homosexual community is also a theme revisited throughout. The same dialogue of being lured into an unsafe place for sex by, quite possibly a murdering maniac, is repeated by different characters as the play progresses.

Sexual awakening, and coming to terms with one’s homosexuality is another theme that runs alongside the end of days idea. Sutherland begins the piece covered in marker penned ‘all seeing eyes’ and as he begins to wash them off becomes aroused. He is met by Larcombe bursting into his alone time and the above scenario plays out – all the time being screamed at via an old-school WWE smackdown-style microphone: YOU ARE AN ABOMINATION! Later, Larcombe wears an innocent white tshirt and kneels before her bed. As she starts to ‘get into her groove’ so to speak, she is crudely and loudly interrupted – once again called an abomination. It all plays out like an extreme version of a sexual education and morals class – with the moraliser being the end of days locust.

Director and deviser, Joe Hooligan Lui is ridiculed in a perfect moment of self aware mockery. Aitkin dons Lui’s trademark cowboy hat and boots and parades around in them, dancing provocatively. A whimsical moment involving Sutherland dressed as a lamb marrying Larcombe is interrupted by Larcombe and Aitken laying on the bed together and making out. This provokes a hilarious and intelligent rant by Sutherland who highlights that Lui is not as groundbreaking as he may seem by presenting homosexuality as a hot steamy kiss between two hot women. This is where the genius shines through – it’s a clever critique of how mainstream theatre makers make it easy for audiences to swallow homosexuality without offending too many people. Something Unveiling apologetically refuses to do – unless it’s making an ironic point.

Unveiling is hilarious. It’s full of puns and references to camp theatre. In a brilliant sequence about the US Navy searching for a way to defeat the many ‘friends of Dorothy’ that have infiltrated their institution, Aitken, Larcombe and especially Sutherland don navy uniforms and ham it up in a hilarious parody of American stupidity. The puns are almost too much – the actors are visibly laughing, especially when shouting ‘I’m coming in behind!’

In my mind however, it is the Judy Garland thread that exhibits the most intelligent analogy of being ‘deviant’ and defiant in life. Garland was a fragile person, who was not always in control of her life. She was pulled from pillar to post but one thing she always had was her voice and her passion for singing and her wonderfully loyal fans. Aitken wears a huge pair of sparkly red shoes and is summarily ‘squished’ under the stage by Larcombe wearing a Dorothy outfit. The Wizard of Oz theme crops up several times, and as a story about soaring away from the doldrums and expectations of a world which id drab and grey, it is perfectly apt for the message being communicated.

Props for singing the little known beginning of the Arlen tune Over The Rainbow, made famous by the wonderful Judy Garland. She was an icon for equality and the gay community and Unveiling culminates in a deeply emotional rendition of The Battle Hymn of the Republic by Sutherland wearing the Dorothy costume. The indefatigable Garland performed this song on her television show after her close friend and defender of human rights John F Kennedy was assassinated. She was told not to perform the song but did anyway, in protest and if you watch it, you can see the sheer emotion unleashed in her iconic and powerful voice. Considering the emotional toll of a show like this – it is a rather fitting end.

WHEN: 7 – 25 November 2017 | 8:30pm

WHERE: The Blue Room Theatre | Northbridge

INFO: Tickets $18 – $28 | Duration 60 minutes | Recommended 18+ | Contains nudity, eggs and strobe lighting

LINK: http://blueroom.org.au/events/unveiling/