Tag: Glenn Elston

REVIEW: The Australian Shakespeare Company Presents ALICE IN NEVER NEVERLAND

Fun and fantasy among the flora

By Kim Edwards

Nineteenth-century fiction is a passion of mine so I had some misgivings about this merry mash-up of children’s classics directed by Glenn Elston, but there is plenty to like in this bright and bustling show. Alice in Never Neverland sees Alice (Madeleine Somers) take a wrong turn from Wonderland and unexpectedly meet Peter Pan (Ryan Ireland) in the always-delightful setting of the Ripponlea Estate gardens. Ireland is both dynamic and endearing, while Somers balances sweetness with a wicked sense of comic timing and an unexpected flair for slapstick, and their joint charm highlights how well these two fictional characters actually work together. Plenty of familiar features from both famous novels come into play during the 90-minute performance: outstanding moments include the hilarious choreography as Pan catches up with his lost Shadow (deftly performed by Matti Middleditch), the Mad Hatter’s sterling showmanship (Dennis Manahan) especially when upstaged by six-year olds, and the reveal of the rather ingenious final set-piece as Captain Hook (Owen Little, who was equally fabulous as the Crocodile) meets his match with sword fights and cannon balls lobbed by the eager kids.

Alice In NeverNeverland with DennisManahan_PHOTOCREDIT Matt Deller

There are strong efforts to keep the lively audience engaged throughout, including this final battle, joining search parties to check the nearby paths, characters venturing out among the picnic blankets and encouraging participation, and the lovely meet-and-greet offered afterwards – the multitude of kids are clearly having a ball, and all the cast are beautiful interacting with them. I also loved the clever costuming, and admired the slick and practical use of props and the space.

However, while respecting the need to change characters and balance out stage time between the six busy artists, it is disappointing there is no strong storyline holding the performance together. The show is more a series of vignettes, but even then the flow of ideas, dialogue and songs within scenes is often disjointed. I didn’t understand the ‘Wallaroos’ thing at all, the clever connection of the White Rabbit’s watch and the Crocodile’s clock came to naught, the ‘find Peter’s Shadow’ plot was forgotten by the script but not the audience (which made for some awkward interruptions), the regular “I feel like a song” device felt sloppy, and Darcy Dann and Middleditch had the difficult task of navigating racial issues with the inclusion of Tiger Lily and Big Chief and their ‘tribal’ songs…

But there – I’m a grumpy ol’ reviewer, and Alice in Never Neverland remains a very fun, funny and definitely entertaining family event. $90 for four includes entry to the gardens (an adventure unto itself) – bring blankets and picnic baskets, sunscreen and hats, and costumes are encouraged!

Alice in Never Neverland is playing Tue-Fri at 10.30am and 6pm and Sat at 10.30am (also 6pm Jan 10th) at the Ripponlea House and Gardens (192 Hotham St, Elsternwick) until Jan 24 2015.

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REVIEW: The Australian Shakespeare Company Presents CARIBBEAN PIRATES AT THE POLLY WOODSIDE

Here be pirates!

By Kim Edwards

The weather may have looked a little threatening, but not so the rambunctious and rapscallion band of pirates that have taken over a Melbourne icon this month. Carribean Pirates at the Polly Woodside is a fun family event for these school holidays, as a lovable crew of boisterous bucchaneers steal a treasure map, stage a mutiny, sing sea shanties and defeat the villain both on shore and onboard the historical sailing ship.

Carribean Pirates on the Polly Woodside PHOTO CREDIT_MattDeller

The opening of the show and warm-up audience interaction with Scurvy Dave (Andrew Kronert), Empty Drawer (Caspar Conrick) and Major Key (Jon Peck) was utterly sensational: the banter and comic chemistry between the three performers was superb, and their musical abilities and hilarious ad-libs throughout the show won my heart entirely. Glenn Elston‘s script has plenty of familiar piratical devices at play: I particularly liked the pantomine inclusion of Larry the cabin boy/Sally (the engaging Lucy Gransbury). the faithful ‘he’s behind you!’ jokes, and a few prop surprises late in the show. However, the storyline is convoluted and seemed to miss a lot of opportunities for clear set-ups, running jokes and more significant audience participation that would have kept the ‘new recruits’ more fully involved throughout.

The cast are high-energy and strongly committed to making the most of all they, have under the strong direction of Doru Surcel who is also the swashbuckling and evil Captain Cutthroat: Christina Marks works valiantly with the rather unsatisfying character of the Gypsy Pirate, the sword-fight choreography is excellent, and the impro demands of the location and excited young viewers were met with aplomb (the fist-shaking quips at the barrage of low-flying helicopters were an especial highlight.)

Overall, the unusual setting is delightful, there’s slapstick provided for the kids and real wit for the adults, and when the plot begins to drag or the exposition thickens, the cast are quick to rev their audience back up again as soon as the opportunity arises. Comfy shoes, hats and sunscreen, and coats are necessary bring-along booty for any outdoor theatre in Melbourne. A group ticket for four is $90, but the show is a good 90 minutes long, the wonderful performers are working hard to entertain on multiple levels, and your little pirates will even go home with a few golden pebbles as souvenir treasure.

DATES: Tue 13 – Fri 16 Jan 2015 at 6pm

Sat 17 Jan 2015 at 10am & 6pm

Mon 19 – Thur 22 Jan 2015 at 10am

Fri 23 & Sat 24 Jan 2015 at 10am & 6pm

WHERE: 21 South Wharf Promenade, South Wharf
(on the Yarra in front of the Melbourne Exhibition Centre)

TICKETS: 038676 7511, www.shakespeareaustralia.com.au or Ticketmaster 136100

REVIEW: The Australian Shakespeare Company Presents WUTHERING HEIGHTS

Passions run riot at Rippon Lea

By Kim Edwards

Emily Bronte’s classic story Wuthering Heights under the stars and in the historic gardens of the Rippon Lea Estate is a beguiling prospect, and this production is both stylish and polished.

Wuthering Heights

With a script by Vince Foxall and direction by Greg Carroll, the torrid tale of Heathcliff and Cathy’s infamous relationship is unleashed among picnic hampers and lawn chairs, and as darkness fell, the night grew chill, and the wind ruffled the cast’s flowing skirts and shirts and the blankets over our knees, the atmosphere for the dark developments of the second act was delightfully apt.

Adapting Bronte’s sprawling problematic novel into a slim and sleek two-and-a-half hour performance is an impressive task, and there is much to admire here. The doubling of characters is well-wrought by a versatile cast who keep the complex genealogy remarkably comprehensible. The multiple narrators are adroitly managed, designer Glenn Elston has worked wonders with a limited lighting rig, and the beautiful sparsity in set and staging is highly effective.

Since the plot is remembered in popular culture as a determinedly romantic and fervent love story, the simmering sexual tension of the novel is understandably made explicit here: some characters are surprisingly handsome, relationships like that of Hindley and Francis and young Heathcliff and Cathy are slightly oddly romanticised and highly sexually charged, and much of the novel’s overt violence is discretely downplayed.

Less successful though for this production are some uneven accents, and the fever pitch at which all the characters are played. Although Bronte’s text is both epic and poetic, the Shakespearean-style proclaiming and frantic dialogue pace is sometimes disconcerting and deprives some of the minor characters of their normalcy and dignity and calmness that is needed to keep the plot’s passionate love triangle grounded.

Spencer Scholz finally remedies this with the quiet gravity of his older Edgar Linton, and his superb characterisation of the brutish but endearing Hareton, while Ciume Lochner works hard to capture the caprices, charms and exasperations of both Cathies. Michael Wahr becomes a pleasingly grim and bitter Heathcliff, and handles the transformation from outcast child to vengeful gentleman with skill.

Wuthering Heights is a very enjoyable evening’s entertainment, and if the imposing backdrop of the mansion is disappointingly unacknowledged in this production, there are torrents of drama and intrigue and an excess of love and hatred to keep an audience engaged. Dress warmly though, for the wuthering is highly realistic…

DATES: 17 February 2014 – 13 March 2014
WHEN: Monday to Thursday at 7pm (no show Monday 10 March 2014)
WHERE: Rippon Lea House and Gardens, 192 Hotham Street, Elsternwick
TICKETS: Adults $45, Conc $40, Groups 10+ $40, Children 5 -15yrs $25
BOOKINGS: www.shakespeareaustralia.com.au or Ticketmaster

REVIEW: Shakespeare in the Gardens with MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM

Lost in the Dream

By Warwick Moffat

A Midsummer Night's Dream - Mustard Seed (Mia Landgren) and Puck (Arky Elston)

The evening had three elements. Firstly, the Melbourne Royal Botanical Gardens at night, as ushers spotted spaces amongst fellow revellers where your own blanket might rest. For those bodies (like mine) which strain when too far removed from modernity, chairs are for hire. It was a welcome respite from the working day. Secondly, there is the play. It was declared that we were there to be entertained and every effort was made to ensure we were. The efforts of the cast and crew were expertly directed by Glenn Elston; the audience appeared truly lost in the world created for them.

Thirdly, and for me this was the most memorable element, every opportunity was taken to use the garden to highlight the play’s key themes. Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream warns of how natural forces can influence human passion and endeavour. The slight and thankfully brief evening shower seemed to be Nature’s own foreword. When Titania (Shireen Morris) bellowed her intent to utilise the wind, the weather even obliged on cue and Morris’s performance as the fairy queen deserved this compliment.

The setting and performances skilfully brought out the animalism within this comedy, where other companies have sadly missed it. Impressive acrobatics (especially Tamika Ball and Liam DeJong), and dance impressed upon us the wildness and sensuality of the woods inhabitants. When the Athenians entered this world, it magnified their all-too-human qualities and made their descent under Puck’s (Arky Elston) bungled spells all the more believable. When the lightshow, the trees and the music of Paul Norton combined during the casting of spells, I became overwhelmed by this realm where natural forces and human intent meet. Elston made Shakespeare’s trickster his own, through physical comedy and a distinct Gen-Y sensibility.

The tradesmen were excellent (Hugh Sexton, Simon Mallory, Ross Williams, Kevin Hopkins and Anthony Rive). Any clown can be silly: these clowns had a depth of character that left the audience laughing but also empathising with their faults. Mallory’s Bottom was not just an Ass; he was a brilliantly cringe-worthy ham, whose need for approval left you wanting to organise a group hug. William’s Snug gets my vote overall, so frustratingly dense and yet so sweet that you would never dare yell at him. That being said, the entire cast performed with flair and enthusiasm.

The Australian Shakespeare Company delivers Dream with the maturity of a troupe who are, after all, celebrating their twenty-fifth year in the Gardens. This comic spectacle has a vitality which comes with never taking your audience for granted.

Dates: 21 Dec 2013 – 15 Mar 2014.

Location: Southern Cross Lawn, Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne. Enter through Observatory Gate on Birdwood Ave. Gates open 90 minutes prior.

Times (for Feb 11 2014 to Mar 15 2014): Tue to Sat at 8pm.

Tickets: $25-$45

Bookings: 03 8676 7511 or www.shakespeareaustralia.com.au or Ticketmaster 136 100.

What to bring: Pack a picnic, a blanket or cushions to sit on and insect repellent.