Blithe Spirit – Black Swan – 2015

Click image for the official Website

I saw the show on Monday night, and I will say upfront, it is a great show. Solid performances in general, many an amusing moment, and plenty of subtle verbal and visual gags to keep everyone entertained. Well worth the evening.

For me, I was disappointed, and that is because I am such a fan of Blithe Spirit itself. I was anticipating the Noel Coward wit and drawl, but this wasn’t the director’s intention.

Director Jeffrey Jay Fowler has a rather impressive reputation, and the awards to prove it. Noel Coward’s tale of spiritual love was written for a different time, and some may see it as being a little sexist for modern audiences. So this production is a little adapted to minimise that potential. While I personally do not agree that the play is in itself sexist, I can appreciate the reasons behind his choice.

Regardless, the strength of his direction shows through, with the small cast of 7 filling the rather large stage space to great effect. The direction was most evident in the scenes where the ghostly characters swished their way between other, completely oblivious characters.

It was a preview night, so a little imperfection was to be expected, yet it was a rather polished performance. Projection from all the cast was spot on, even for those of us up in the Circle, and there was rarely any issue with sight lines or masking.

The stage design was extremely generous with no visual dead spots. There was one weird spot front stage right which had an interesting echo when cast spoke from there, but other wise all was good.

All the cast were very entertaining, and there was a lovely contrast between the two wives: Ruth (Adriane Daff) and Elvira (Jo Morris). Ruth being a little more stern and proper vs the flighty and incorrigible Elvira, which says a lot about the tastes of husband Charles (Adam Booth). Adam appeared at the beginning of the year in “Venus In Fur” which I also reviewed.

For me, there were two stand-out performances for the Preview Night. The part of Edith, the ex-army house maid with a speed control issue, was played by Ella Hetherington, and very convincingly I might add. She wore her accent, and character, like a glove. I was fortunate enough to have had the chance to meet her as I was leaving, and she’s just as delightful, sans accent, in person.

The other was an unexpected appearance by Alison Van Reeken, who was called in to replace that same day, the originally cast Roz Hammond, who had fallen ill. Roz, I do hope you are back on your feet very soon.

Alison, on the other hand, with script still in hand, gave us one of the most interesting, and entertaining, Madame Arcati, Medium at large, performances I have ever seen, and after learning the role in less than 24 hours, or so I am advised. Stunning. Poor Jeff was very apologetic before the show went up, asking us to forgive the script. In truth, it almost became a part of the character, and went virtually unnoticed, at least by me.

Rounding out the cast was the Bradmans played by Michelle Fornasier and Michael Loney, the obligatory supporting characters, there to provide a little colour and diversity in typical Noel Coward style. This they certainly did, with their own comic moments of married couple interplay.

So, in summary, I had my expectations set for typical Noel Coward Blithe Spirit, and as such I was disappointed, but that should not detract from what is a good piece of theatre. Those who are fans of Blithe Spirit should go in with an open mind, like I should have done.

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Glengarry Ross – A Review

Black Swan 2015 Glengarry Glen Ross 23 May to 14 June Pete Rowsthorn, Damian Walshe-Howling & Will O'Mahony image by Robert Frith Acorn PhotoWARNING: This production contains a lot of profanity. Not my post, but the play.

On Monday the 25th, I had the opportunity to watch Black Swan Theatre’s latest production Glengarry Ross. An ensemble production with two key focus characters, Shelly (Peter Rowsthorn) and Ricky (Damian Walshe-Howling), with some notable performances by;

  • Luke Hewitt
  • Ben Mortley
  • Will O‘Mahony
  • Kenneth Ransom
  • Steve Turner

It is a very dialogue driven, and fast paced piece, as the characters deal with the stress of being door-to-door sales men under a new management policy. The stress of the job, and the new rewards policy, has put the pressure on the team as we witness Shelly trying to cut a deal with the despised John Williamson (Will O‘Mahony), Dave Moss (Kenneth Ransom) coercing co-worker George (Luke Hewitt) into stealing from the office, and Ricky Roma making a hard sale on the timid and submissive James Lingk (Steve Turner). The role of Baylen (Ben Mortley) is a small one, as the detective brought in to question all about the robbery.

Audience

I am going to put a few different hats, and try to be objective here. I’ll start with a general audience point of view.

There were times when the dialogue was a little rushed, making some of the conversation a little hard to follow, and being such a wordy piece, there is a lot of dialogue. In a way, I think it added a little to the frustration of the scenes, although I doubt that was the intention.

Apart from that, the pacing was engrossing, although somewhat short. I must admit, I am not familiar with Glengarry Ross, and was not prepared for the slightly longer than one-act length.

Actor

BSGR1

Shelly and Ricky

As I mention above, this is a very wordy play, which can be daunting to a performer of any calibre, particularly the monologue by Ricky in the first half. I am certain that I saw at least two of the actors struggle with their lines a few times, yet managed to keep the show moving at its high pacing. The parts of Moss, Shelly, and Ricky I found to be most entertaining with some of the more interesting interactions and commentary on the topic of the play.

I would have like to seen some use of drop-mics or similar to help with the volume of the piece, particularly in the opening half where the performances are of a secretive nature. Even some low-gain mics hidden within the furniture could have helped.

Notable mentions for performances are Damian Walshe-Howling (Ricky), Luke Hewitt (George), and Kenneth Ransom (Moss) who showed great diversity and depth of character. It is a pity the character of Baylen was not fleshed out a little more as Ben’s short appearances were rather commanding.

Director

The use of the stage was rather ingenious. Placed on a rotating stage, there were three “sets”. It was actually two sets with one being used twice. Initially, you are presented with two restaurant scenes which form the back of the main stage space. The set is rotated between the two slightly different restaurant for the first three scenes, before turning around completely to reveal the large, hidden office behind. This brought those first scenes up close to the audience, which added a certain level of “privacy” to the scene.

There were a few blocking issues on the main set, with a few of the actors finding themselves talking up-stage a lot, but generally the space gave a lot of options for the cast to move around. George’s desk was a little hidden behind a wall and other desks which meant he disappeared at one point.

Overall

As with any production, nothing ever goes smoothly, as I well know personally. That said, this show is still very entertaining and worth a look. It was good to see Peter Rowsthorn on stage (Comedy Company, Kath & Kim, Paper Planes).

http://www.bsstc.com.au/season-2015/glengarry-glen-ross/

 

REVIEW – Venus in Fur with Black Swan

On the 15th of January, I was given the privilege of attending the preview night for Black Swan’s Venus in Fur, written by David Ives and directed by Lawrie Cullen-Tait, at the Perth State Theatre. I didn’t know much about the play before hand, and decided not to find out and let the show surprise me. Without giving too much away, I was greeted by an interesting stage space. The large performance area was mostly dispensed with to have a very focused stage area depicting a studio loft.

We are very quickly introduced to Thomas Novacheck, played by Adam Booth, a playwright slash director, clearly frustrated by a lack of talent in young ladies auditioning for his next production, an adaptation of the 1870’s novel A Venus in Fur. His mobile phone rant to his fiancé is both amusing and rather poignant. Having sat on both sides of the casting couch, I could all too easily related to much of his complaints, however comical they sounded.

FelicityAs he is about to leave the studio, he is confronted by a brash, crass and somewhat offensive young lady. Ironically, she shares the same name as the female protagonist of Thomas’ play, Vanda, played by Felicity McKay. She appears to embody everything Thomas had only seconds before been complaining about, but with a rougher presentation. She convinces him to let her read, and has even brought her own costumes to help out.

As soon as Vanda gets into character, it is clear that she is not what she seems, and so the battle of the sexes begins. Vanda challenges Thomas opinions of the story he is creating, his own insecurities, and belief in himself, while Thomas struggles to defend his artistic interpretation on what is essentially 1870s porn in Vanda’s opinion.

Both actors gave impressive performances, however I was captivated by Felicity and the tiny little nuances she brought to the character. I found myself watching her expressions as Thomas spoke. You could almost hear what she was thinking throughout. It felt incredibly natural. When you consider that she technically played several characters through the course of the play, being able to maintain that level of connection is simply stunning.

The simple and tight staging was put to good use, and I have the feeling that this production would have been an ideal candidate for Theatre in the Round. As it was, there were a few blocking issues with positioning of the cast, but considering this was an intimate power play piece, I doubt I could have done any better.

Sound and lighting aren’t my specific area, yet I felt that both were rather good. The lighting helped to reduce the visible stage area to the loft set piece, and was regularly used to help set moods, even being “controlled” by the cast. Sound was used to good effect adding little moody elements, although I personally question the little audio clips when the “actors” were miming movements as they read through Thomas’ script. They added some humour, and yet were very subtle. It was a delicate balance which mostly worked for me, but I have that little voice in my head saying were they necessary? I minor quibble really, and certainly not one that detracted from the show itself.

Everyone will have their own opinion of course, but one thing is certain, when the audience continue clapping until the cast return for an encore bow, then you know the show has been a hit. Personally, the standout element in what was a powerful production, was most definitely Mz McKay. In my opinion, she has nailed the very aspects in what I define as the perfect actor. If you only need one reason to see a show, make it this young lady.

Well done to all involved. The show runs until the 8th of Feb, and tickets can be purchased from Black Swan’s web site. http://www.bsstc.com.au/season-2015/venus-in-fur/