Posts Tagged ‘kanen breen

19
Jul
17

Ruddigore, or The Witch’s Curse

Ruddigore, or The Witch’s Curse

Opera Queensland

QPAC Playhouse

July 14 – 29 2017

 

Reviewed by Geoff Waite

 

Being a life-long fan of Gilbert and Sullivan after my introduction to their wonderful operettas as a high school lad performing in Trial by Jury, The Pirates of Penzance, and HMS Pinafore, and in later years The Mikado, I was excited to be attending Opera Queensland’s production of Ruddigore. Perhaps one of the least-known Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, Ruddigore has not often been performed here, so this was a welcome opportunity to enjoy it. And enjoy it I did.

 

While the original opening night of Ruddigore on 22 January 1887 was less than successful, after some modification it went on to be well accepted. Of all the G&S operettas, Gilbert later declared Ruddigore to be one of his three favourites, the others being Utopia and The Yeomen of the Guard.

 

 

In a satirical take on the Victorian Melodrama genre, Ruddigore’s farcical plot employs curses, witches, and disguises, and the intricacies of this bizarre and convoluted plot can be difficult to grasp.The Baronets of Ruddigore are subject to a terrible curse placed on them by a witch long ago – each of the successive Baronets must commit some kind of a crime every single day or they will die in terrible agony. Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd, the Baronet of Ruddigore, has been living as a farmer, Robin Oakapple (Bryan Proberts), for years, working up the courage to ask a beautiful village maiden, Rose Maybud (Natalie Christie Peluso), for her hand. Rose is also keen on Robin but as a woman she is bound by the etiquette of the day and cannot tell him of her feelings. In the village in which they live, a group of professional bridesmaids who are desperate to officiate at a wedding, any wedding, none having been celebrated for six months, are encouraging this union. Robin, who was supposed to have died but has been hiding in disguise while his younger brother, Sir Despard Murgatroyd (Jason Barry Smith), assumed the title and the curse, is hiding the secret. His foster-brother, Richard Dauntless (Kanen Breen), a sailor, wins Rose’s ‘affection’ after undertaking to woo her on behalf of the timid Robin. Richard later reveals Robin’s existence to Despard, and Robin then must take his place and the responsibility of committing a crime every day in order to abide by the terms of the curse and continue to live. In the meantime, Mad Margaret (Christine Johnston) who has been driven to madness by her love for the lost Sir Despard Murgatroyd, has appeared and is reunited with Despard, who is now free.

 

 

In Ruddigore Castle, Robin (now Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd) has difficulty perpetrating suitably bad crimes, annoying his ancestors who emerge as ghosts from their portraits in the gallery to berate him. After complying with the direction of his uncle, Sir Roderic Murgatroyd (Andrew Collis) to abduct a lady from the village as a suitable crime, the lady abducted happens to be Dame Hannah (Roxane Hislop), Sir Roderic’s former love and fiancé. They are reunited in love. Robin then submits to Roderic that under the terms of the curse, a Baronet of Ruddigore can die only by refusing to commit a daily crime. Refusing would therefore basically lead to suicide, but suicide is itself, a crime. Thus he reasons, his predecessors “ought never to have died at all’. Roderic agrees with this logic and Robin is freed of the curse. All ends happily with the various couples together again.

 

 

From the light, bright opening, set in an outdoor tea-house by the sea and later in the dark depths of the Ruddigore Castle where the current cursed Baronet and his ancestors’ portraits dwell, the set (Richard Roberts) is nicely complemented by the lighting and effects of Andrew Meadows, giving a modern feel to a piece first performed in 1887, when one feels, the production would not have been so ‘light’. And a few modern terms thrown into the dialogue fit well. The emergence of the baronet ghosts from their portraits in the gallery is a special moment. The acting is tops and I particularly enjoyed the Frank Spencer-like attitude and reticence evident in Robin’s first encounter with Rose. As expected, the singing is exceptional, from leads and chorus alike, with The Queensland Symphony Orchestra conducted by Roland Peelman providing exhilarating accompaniment with Sullivan’s music.

 

 

This is a comedy and much of the credit for the expression and impact of Gilbert’s libretto is due to the Director, Lindy Hume and her assistant and Choreographer, Rosetta Cook. The portrayal of Despard Murgatroyd and Mad Margaret as Salvation Army officers touting timbrels on their return to normal life is classic. And the extension of those timbrels to the whole cast for a rousing timbrel- shaking finale made a fitting end to a most enjoyable show that you should see.

21
Sep
16

Snow White

Snow White

La Boite, Opera Queensland & Brisbane Festival

The Roundhouse

September 3 – 24 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

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My mother just spent more than 50 days in hospital – two hospitals actually, between two ICUs – and she continues to recover at home from complications following surgery, all due to a bug that travelled with her from one of the 5 Stans. I’ve also been sick since Brisbane Festival opening night and have stubbornly attended as much as possible, in Brisbane and on the Sunshine Coast, where people forget I’m based, without managing to keep up with the follow up, i.e. writing about what I’ve seen. I have, however, perhaps as some sort of procrastination, insisted on (mostly successfully although the place could be tidier) running a household with two extra people in it, getting to some social engagements, camping at North Shore despite coughing up a bigger storm than the one to hit us on the day we came home, and before that, finishing a 5-week teaching contract because unlike reviewing Brisbane theatre, teaching pays. An exhausting term, physically and emotionally. I’ve missed yoga and coffee dates and drinks and events. Everything online needs an overhaul, the garden needs love, and I’ve been postponing the spring cleaning since this time last year. I need new writers, I need new clothes and I need a new focus. But more on that later.

Luckily, most of the shows I see stay with me. And let’s quietly appreciate the archival value of even a late response. Here’s the first in a succession of catch ups, well overdue. Sorry about that.

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We enter The Roundhouse to a Disney soundtrack and chirping birdsong, eliciting an eerie sense of foreboding and at the same time, a false sense of security. This is a grim tale, much more so than the Grimm tale.

For the record, Disney’s classic animated Snow White unnerves me to this day.

The forest is inside, on the ceiling. The darkness is broken by fairy lights. Mirrors, the autumn leaves, the branches, a blood stained timber floor, musical instruments and kitchen chairs hanging from the forest canopy. Later, rose petals, sparkles… A tree house, the stairs running up the middle of it, musicians beneath it (the evocative space designed by Sarah Winter & striking lighting designed by Ben Hughes). I recognise Kanen Breen, like a lithe, glittering, corseted Cabaret Emcee, swanning around with his glass of red until it’s drained and settling next to a member of the audience for an intimate chat. He grins like The Cheshire Cat and moves on to the next victim, seated in front of us. I love Breen’s sparkling red nails and mouth, the essence of the infamous red apple, a reminder of the inherent evil and glamorous violence of this fairytale. He’s The Mirror. Of course he is.

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The Queen (Silvia Colloca) epitomises everything we love to loathe and fear and admire about the evil stepmother stereotype / ancient mother archetype. She’s sophisticated and sexy, intimidating, alluring…actually, she’s intoxicating. Colloca’s voice is a fallen angel’s, her lower register particularly rich and warm. Scintillating in black and red lace like a Spanish lady of the night, she’s exquisite, a Diva, seducing us effortlessly. As per the original version, without differentiation between biological mother and stepmother, she is one, she is all. Mother. Woman. Crone. Queen. Her tango with The Mirror is a luscious, almost lascivious affair. Choreographed by Rosetta Cook and Gavin Webber it’s the perfect vehicle to set these two up early as the stars of the show.

Zulya Kamalova’s compositions – enchanted swirling, pulsing, living, breathing things – take us out of ourselves and into this dark, dangerously glistening, shifting world of elegance, innocence and broken trust. A waltz spells out the mother-daughter relationship more clearly and succinctly than a few shouted lines of dialogue can do. We feel for them both. None of us actually want to grow old and weary and weathered, after all. Suzie Miller’s libretto succeeds in capturing varying perspectives on the power and fragility of women and the way we can examine our potential, our power, our perceived limitations, our ambitions, and what it is we’re prepared to do to be “happy” when we dare to look at ourselves in the mirror.

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This Little Lolita Snow White, the fairest of them all, is an innocent princess turned teen seductress. An innate talent, an inevitability; the product of her environment, perhaps… In her last desperate attempt to escape the clutches, and the axe, of The Hunter (Michael Tuahine), this Snow White becomes every mother’s worst nightclubbing, shame-walking nightmare. Steph Pickett gets the mix just right – she’s ingenue and expert, and sings like Fiona Apple/Jesska Hoop/Katie Noonan (and I see Katie in the bank of seats opposite us but miss her later to say hello to). It’s Act 1’s most contemporary piece, reminding me of the first 16 bars of Katzenjammer’s Hey Ho On the Devil’s Back in both its shape and tone. This is the moment the little girl becomes a woman, beautifully, frighteningly, authentically captured. The most amazing, game-changing piece of the show though is The Queen’s lament, truly exemplary vocal work, which must be heard to be believed. Colloca’s wailing resonates with us no matter how great or small our individual losses, and becomes a cry of utter despair for all mothers everywhere, for all humanity. She wails and groans her immense grief, singing over the unmoving body of her daughter. Singing over the bones. Lost. Empty. Willing her flesh and blood, her little Snow White, to come back to life, even when it will bring about her own undoing. This extended moment in time holds us in collective stillness, breathlessness, until the final haunting note fades. It’s the greatest Medea moment we’ve seen yet. This is an indescribable ache, which I’ll retain from this show for years yet. 

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The production continues past its perfect end though, redundantly taking us ten years into the future, when Snow White is with child and we see the pattern repeating. The story goes on… I would love to have left the story to go on unseen, leaving us hanging, after the devastating look that is exchanged between the two once the girl has realised her mother has tried multiple times to kill her. The rest amounts to the beginning of a poor sequel and undoes a little bit of the brilliance that is this new extraordinary work, so funny and lovely, and witty and gritty and gory.

I also enjoyed less than others may have, the opening of Act 2 involving Colloca-as-performer-as-The Queen, wrapped in her iconic cape, gliding down the stairs and moving through the audience to offer an apple to bemused audience members – “It’s not poisonous” – and sitting on stage to share a story from between the pages of Grimm’s Fairytales before morphing back into The Queen proper to go on with the tale. A gimmick that seems unnecessary in a work of such quality but one that must have seemed like a good idea at the time. Think about it. Do audiences need these breaks from the narrative to connect, to relate, to remember they’ve come here to experience another world? To help them recognise their world? Despite my questions, I see the opening night audience embrace every element of the production and so I muse, again, who am I to find fault with any tiny thing? Snow White is truly a work of art and I hope we see the original cast recording soon, if not a beautifully filmed version of the show at some stage.

Masterfully directed in this space by Lindy Hume, Snow White is an important, potent new work that reflects our enduring obsession with beauty, power, the mystical feminine and the wonder and majesty, the vital lessons of storytelling. An accomplished piece for a world premiere and perfect festival fare, Snow White is destined for lands far, far away. I hope you saw it here at least once. 

10
Apr
16

Banquet of Secrets

Banquet of Secrets
Brisbane Powerhouse & Victorian Opera
Brisbane Powerhouse Performance Space
April 7 – 9 2016

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

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Featuring David Rogers-Smith, Dimity Shepherd, Michael Carman, Kanen Breen and Antoinette Halloran.

 

I wasn’t going to publish this review because everything I’ve seen about Banquet of Secrets is amazing; it’s been exceptionally well received by everyone in the country except me…and Sam, who has since referred to it as “Banquet of Boredom”.

As a reviewer, I often wonder about the value of putting my opinion out there at all.

When we write for free, we write for ourselves. And yes, while it would be nice to at least cover the cost of fuel, parking and dinner, and while we’re at it, a lovely little Wheels & Dollbaby number every month, I’m also just putting here for later, something that might be useful or interesting one day about Queensland theatre. Live performance disappears once it’s done, but some sort of intelligent or heartfelt response to the work is a worthwhile record of what our creatives are doing, and how they’re doing it, and where we’re heading together, surely.

I don’t know. It probably doesn’t help that I’m terribly inconsistent, and I continue to resist further tertiary study and the sort of academic writing that appears to be the only way to add any sort of gravitas to a body of work, and instead stay stubbornly more or less within my own little world. That’s right. Write for free, but only for yourself…….

In the case of Banquet of Secrets, I’d decided that since this year has been challenging enough already (and it’s only April!) it was hardly worth making a comment about it. Who am I to say it’s anything less than brilliant? I’ve wondered, “HAVE I MISSED THE POINT?” (if you loved it you will answer yes, yes I have) and, “WHAT IF I’M WRONG?” (if you loved it you will answer yes, yes I am) and, “WHO EVEN CARES?” and, “WHO WILL EVEN NOTICE IF I SAY NOTHING, OR IF XS DISAPPEARS FOR A WHILE?”, which is something I’ve been wondering a lot about lately. At the same time, on several different occasions, I’ve been told by industry friends that they always look forward to reading what’s here and I must publish this review because…well, perhaps other (louder) voices have offered accolades with which they also disagree.

So I persist with this blog (and the reviews that are not as favourable as some) because who even am I if I quit responding honestly to what I’m seeing? 

This work is certainly challenging. It’s probably some of Paul Grabowsky’s best work, brilliant by design, comprising complex orchestrations that boast multiple layers (and he conducts from the piano); entire worlds exist beneath discordant harmonies. I don’t mind a bit of discord (life is dishing up plenty of discord!), but it’s not my favourite new work and it might not be yours either… But will you say so? 

The reason musical theatre and opera remain separate is because they are separate entities. Each form has its merits and the two haven’t mixed well here.

Actually, they’re calling it “chamber music theatre” but chamber is more lilting and haunting, opera is slicker and music theatre more entertaining. The dialogue is cliched, uneventful, the banter not witty enough. The only real comedy comes from the waiter, who describes each course of a ridiculously decadent dinner in flowery language and declares triumphantly each time, “You’re welcome, thank you very much!” before exiting. He is clearly relieved not to play a larger part in the evening’s proceedings.

Kaneen Breen’s character, the host Jean Pierre, is the next best established (and next best dressed) character but he can only do so much with what he’s been given. Breen’s first solo, establishing that everything must be perfect, reveals the Last Supper premise and his final piece confirms it; it’s the only musical number to make me feel anything; his love, and admiration and appreciation for the friends is touching.

The opening scene however, a thunderstorm (Sound Design Jim Atkins, Lighting Design Matt Scott & Set Design Christina Smith; we’ll say nothing more of her costumes), does little to establish each of the four characters and doesn’t make us keen to hear more from them. The first ten minutes of the classic comedy Clue, inspired by the board game, should have provided Director, Roger Hodgman with some sense of setting up a similar story. Yes, yes, it’s all there, but we don’t believe a word of it. It’s a shame because they are such beautiful, accomplished vocalists and clearly capable of tackling meatier roles.

Unashamedly contrived, Banquet of Secrets makes a mockery of the quest to discover, develop and disseminate “new” art to intelligent audiences. While other writers struggle to garner support to bring their work to the stage, Steve Vizard and Grabowsky over promise and under deliver in this poor excuse for a musical theatre / opera hybrid. They’ve created an elitist monster, which rears its ugly head in a landscape that consistently offers more interesting and challenging work. It’s simply not audience friendly.

We see each secret coming and feel nothing for any of the four characters; predictably, a lawyer, a writer, a doctor and the collector, our host. We can’t ever be sure whether or not the friends meet in a restaurant, despite the program notes advising that this is the case according to the friends’ tradition. (It might have been a more intriguing night had events taken place in Jean Pierre’s home). Apart from the immediate breathtaking impact of the overhead ornate mirror, which is not used to its full effect, the staging is arbitrary, with musicians to one side and an under-utilised upright piano and bar setting opposite. The singers either stand across the downstage space or sit at the dining table. Quite often there is some aimless wandering around the table and through the space. Characters connect with each other by placing a hand on another’s shoulder as they pass, or holding a gaze for a moment too long… Oh! And one number is staged on the table top. Nuance is lost or never there to begin with.

The music is mostly jarring, largely repetitive (Sam enjoys it much less than I do; clearly the world of commercial radio is beginning to have an effect), and it doesn’t help the performers to embrace their characters in order to give us the guts (or hearts) of the people they claim to be. It’s all rather surface level, like a dinner with strangers might be. We never feel as if we get to know them and because we don’t know them we don’t feel any sympathy for them. As each secret is revealed we feel nothing. Transitions are slow and mostly awkward. There is polite applause at the end of each number,although a substantial number of older audience members give much more generous applause during the curtain call. I’m pleased that they’ve enjoyed it! Do we recall any of the melodies at this point? No. In fact, during the curtain call Sam reminds me: even CATS has a memorable tune…

And why didn’t we see them eat? And why didn’t the food on the plates match the foodie photos projected across the mirror’s tilted surface? Perhaps it’s okay to gloss over these details in “chamber music theatre”???

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As an experiment, Banquet of Secrets is an interesting attempt to seek a broader audience but sadly, it’s self-indulgent and reeking of desperation, like the mediocre children we insist – not all of us insist – have what it takes to “make it”. Ugh.

 

Banquet of Secrets appears to have been written for the elite old-school upper classes; the Racer Cruisers. They spend vast amounts of money on well appointed, comfortable racing yachts, defeating both purposes and impressing those who know no better.

 

 

Read Grabowsky’s tribute to Prince.

 

Hear more of Grabowsky’s work at QPAC this week.