Melbourne, Australia

REVIEW: La Mama Presents HABITUAL CRIMINAL

In Performances, Review, Theatre on October 23, 2014 at 8:35 am

Fascinating biography reaches a new audience

By Myron My

Amy Maud Bock was a New Zealand confidence trickster and male impersonator in the late 1800s/early 1900s. She was also the first child of Carolyn Bock’s great-grandfather Alfred. Using press articles and Amy’s own letters and transcripts, Bock attempts to bring this woman to life once more in this new work-in-development Habitual Criminal.

Habitual Criminal

All the actors – Martin Blum, Chris Bunworth, Helen Hopkins and Bock – were full of energy, displaying strong commitment to their roles. The myriad of characters they each portrayed – even if only for a few minutes – was done with much gusto, especially from Hopkins and Bunworth. I can see them having more fun with the roles as they develop this piece further and no longer require the script on stage with them, giving them the opportunity to use their hands and bodies more freely and to maintain eye contact with each other and the audience.

The props and costumes, whilst kept to a minimum, did well in setting the scenes up and providing context to the story. The character changes that happened with the removal of a shawl or the putting on of a coat were creatively executed and never broke the flow of the story.

Habitual Criminal was performed as part of La Mama’s Explorations season of works in various developments and in Bock’s own words, ‘this is the beginning’ of this production. It’s a very impressive and dynamic beginning too, however I feel the pace needed to slow down a little to allow for the audience to fully digest and comprehend what was happening on stage. I often found myself working hard to keep up with the actors and the material, and felt I lost quite a bit in trying to play catch-up. The story of Amy Maud Bock is quite unique and highly interesting – as my own research as inspired by this show has shown – so it would be a shame for any of this to be lost in translation and execution.

REVIEW: Australian Premiere of HAPPY PEOPLE IN CONCERT

In Musical Theatre, Performances, Review on October 20, 2014 at 8:08 am

Marvellous home-grown musical

By Bradley Storer

Australian music theatre composer Matthew Lee Robinson, after the acclaimed concert production of his musical Atlantis earlier this year, returned to Chapel Off Chapel with the presentation of his original work Happy People, a behind-the-scenes examination of the world of children’s entertainment.

Happy People - Photo Credit James Terry Photography

The titular group, ‘Happy People’, are a Hi-5/Wiggles-style collective of children’s entertainers who, after ten years working together, are falling apart. Bobby (Bobby Fox) and Sunny (Sun Park), formerly married and recently divorced, are conflicted over residual bitterness and Bobby’s self destructive tendencies. Flamboyant Jewish boy Benny (Tom Sharah) seeks to re-invent himself as a member of a boy band pop star. Jeff (Bert Labonté), the elephant-suited mascot of the group, wants nothing more than to move to his recently-bought new home and settle down with the fifth member of the group, Sally (Gretel Scarlett) – a bright bouncy blonde with the sugary sweetness and rigidity of a Stepford housewife.

The show as a whole is fantastic – Robinson, doing double duty as composer and librettist, crafts hilarious sendups of songs that seemed almost ripped from a real-life children’s TV show, as well as some emotional ballads and duets that throb with the complexities and heartaches of adulthood, alongside well-crafted scenes that had the audience in tears from laughter.

In the cast, there are no weak points – even from behind music stands and carrying books, they delivered fully committed and individuated performances. Scarlett as the manically cheerful Sally shows off some fantastic comedic chops, as well as her stunning voice of both range and power. Sharah as Benny comes close to stealing the show with every line, and his song ‘Boyband’ is a comedic and physical tour de force of every 90’s boyband stereotype. Robyn Arthur in the small but crucial role of the band’s manager Poppy brought a solid and earthy maturity to the part, as well as a rafter-shaking belt in the touching penultimate song ‘Young’.

Happy People stands as a strong work from an established Australian composer, and is great evidence of the vibrancy and originality of the emerging Australian musical scene.

The premiere of Happy People in Concert took place at Chapel off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel St, Prahran on the 18 – 19th October, 2014.

REVIEW: Drago’s Amazing Bona Fide Freak Show

In Circus, Performances, Review on October 16, 2014 at 9:15 am

A one-man carnival

By Myron My

I knew next to nothing about Drago’s Amazing Bona Fide Freak Show before attending the show, but I was intrigued by its title and minimal show synopsis. Fortunately, Drago’s (Ilan Abrahams) declaration at the beginning of the show that he is here to entertain us and we are here for enjoyment really proves true.

Drago's Freak Show

Abrahams has really honed in on showman Drago’s character and personality. The physicality displayed seemed very natural and habitual, and along with his miming, Abrahams has great story-telling abilities and ensures that he always has our attention.

The tatty circus tent designed by Hamish Fletcher and the outfit worn by Abrahams and created by Amaya Vecellio are both well thought out and carefully detailed, down to the dirt marks and holes, further embracing the travelling circus atmosphere.

The lighting played a very important and effective part in Drago’s Amazing Bona Fide Freak Show. A variety of lighting techniques are used including a circus spotlight, torchlights and candlelight, with each eliciting a different emotion or mood from us. Even amongst the low light moments, the shadows bouncing off the walls and flickering within the tent added to the freak show vibe being created.

Despite my enjoyment, I did walk out of the show feeling unsure as to the purpose of the piece. What is it that Abrahams wants us to feel? The stories were enjoyable as were the songs but I felt like there was a message that got lost along the way. I was also puzzled as to the meaning of the special guest and the “big reveal”. I expected a stronger impact especially with all the anticipation for their arrival.

The elements that do work in Drago’s Amazing Bona Fide Freak Show work very well and ensure that it is an hour of definite enjoyment, even if the ultimate meaning of the work does get a little confused.

Drago’s Amazing Bona Fide Freak Show was performed at La Mama as part of its Explorations season which supports works in development.

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