Sydney Festival 2019

BRETT AND WENDY : A LOVE STORY BOUND BY ART

Drumroll…… crash! Kim Carpenter has brought us a marvellous show about the life and times of controversial, larger than life famous Australian artist Brett Whiteley .I was fortunate enough to catch the last performance of the Riverside season . Brett was the bad boy genius of Australian art, Wendy his muse and wife. Together they dominated Sydney’s art world for over two decades.

They were charismatic,  convivial yet fractured and damaged. A Whiteley painting can fetch millions at auction but his life ended sadly in a cheap motel on the south coast.The pair’s legacy lives on in Brett’s work, his studio, and Wendy’s Secret Garden in Lavender Bay. Whiteley would have celebrated his 80th birthday this year .This theatre piece is part of the retrospective, in conjunction with Brett Whiteley: Drawing is Everything, a major exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW.

The show depicts their tumultuous relationship. Whiteley was just 17 when he first met Wendy Julius, then 15, the woman who would become his inspiration, wife, and the mother of their only child. Arkie Later in life she also became for a time his enemy when divorce , drugs and infidelity shattered their relationship. After Brett’s death, Wendy again emerged as his stalwart champion, honouring his creative genius and keeping his memory alive. Continue reading BRETT AND WENDY : A LOVE STORY BOUND BY ART

THE ILIAD – OUT LOUD…PARTS ONE, TWO AND THREE

This adaptation by William Zappa after Homer, has been 7 years in the making. Zappa has researched 17 translations, travelled far and wide, testing the work. He always knew Homer came from a tradition of professional guilds of storytelling, the words were meant to be heard. So now with the start originally a commissioned radio drama, the four actors devote themselves to the storytelling with their voice their primary instrument but delivered as if a staged reading with script in hand, moving in and out of the central sand circle.

I must immediately acknowledge only a limited visit to Homer as a student of literature. It is the oldest western writing surviving, attributed to Homer (mostly – but that is the debate around many very old writers Shakespeare included). 3000 years old. Written in the mid eighth century BCE. Earlier than the festivals of Greek Tragedy with which we might be a little more familiar. So it sits, Epic, it is after all still 24 books told in 3 parts and 9 hours. But Zappa has allowed intentionally in his direction (supported by Sport for Jove and specifically Damian Ryan) to become a resonance of our very modern world. Attempting to make the world of Homer’s Iliad, at once, an Australian Soap Opera, an HBO series with recaps and reminders, and I thought inconsistently, a colloquialism that ‘played’ with his characters; be they kings, princes or indeed gods. Continue reading THE ILIAD – OUT LOUD…PARTS ONE, TWO AND THREE

COUNTING AND CRACKING @ SYDNEY TOWN HALL

COUNTING & CRACKING is a Sri Lankan story made into a powerful stage play about a family’s journey to remain united across countries, and across generations following a long-term civil war that claimed the lives of over 100,000 people.

It is an emotional tale about a family torn apart by the war, going back and forth in time to tell this story using an international cast of 16 actors from 6 countries playing four generations of a family. The play is performed in six languages and translated simultaneously.

Director Eamon Flack took up the challenge to work with playwright Shakthi Shakthidharan over a period of 5 years to make this production possible.

Shakthi researched the story of his Sri Lankan great grandfather and went to great pains to discover the truth about what really happened there over time. He eventually found out what brought his family to Australia and gradually began to grasp his own history in the making. The information was invaluable in piecing-together his roots, and developing this into a realistic story about coming together, and breaking apart. Continue reading COUNTING AND CRACKING @ SYDNEY TOWN HALL

ONE INFINITY @ CARRIAGEWORKS

One of the major highlights of this year’s Festival of Sydney, this stunning show is a hypnotic, cross-cultural music and dance collaboration, where the audience are also performers. ONE INFINITY blends traditional Chinese music and contemporary dance, the audience an essential part of the performance, in an intricate, mirroring dialogue.

It started with the music: Australian recorder virtuoso Genevieve Lacey working with Chinese guqin master Wang Peng, and later English composer Max de Wardener and the Jun Tian Fang Music Ensemble.

Eventually they decided their work required a sense of theatre and engaged Gideon Obarzanek as choreographer and director who brought together 10 dancers from Townsville-based Dancenorth and the Beijing Dance Theatre.

When we enter we discover that the audience is divided into two sides and the assorted musical instruments are on stage. There is a glossy reflective covering on the floor like a dividing river.

As director-choreographer Gideon Obarzanek informs us at the start of the performance, the audience does not just watch ONE INFINITY but is an integral part of the work. We are briefed to copy the gestures made by two dancers (Amber Haines and Gao Jing) when they are spotlit throughout the show. Continue reading ONE INFINITY @ CARRIAGEWORKS

LUCIBELA @ CITY RECITAL HALL

Lucibela © N’Krumah Lawson Daku 2017

Lucibela has a powerful but mellow voice and used it to great effect in her Sydney Festival show at City Recital Hall. Lucibela is from Cape Verde, an island country off the coast of Africa and a former Portuguese colony. In the tradition of the great Cape Verde singer Cesaria Evora. Lucibela started her career singing Cesaria Evora, Titina and Bana songs for tourists in the hotels of Cape Verde and has taken that background into her own concerts at festivals and venues around the world.

She was joined on stage by a marvellous band featuring drums, an electric guitar, a seven string bass and a cavaquinho. A cavaquinho is a small four stringed instrument from the guitar family. The band was very skilled, passionate and played in a variety of styles. Continue reading LUCIBELA @ CITY RECITAL HALL

BEWARE OF PITY @ ROSLYN PACKER THEATRE

 

Directed by Simon McBurney and James Yeatman this is a co production between Complicite and SCHAUBÜHNE BERLIN . It is an astonishing bravura ensemble piece. It is one of the major Sydney Festival events and has a short season only playing n Sydney.

Based on Austrian Stefan Zweig’s 1939 novel, BEWARE OF PITY follows the misadventures of Anton Hofmiller, a young cavalry officer who falls in love with Edith, the partially paralysed daughter of a local landowner, but goes on to break her heart. Overwhelmed by guilt when the girl takes her own life, Anton enacts a well-meaning but tragically ill headed plot to put things right. It is a story of guilt, pity,  trying to do the right thing and how unreceived messages can cause tragedy. The play is set in 1937, looking back at the tumult and horrors of World War 1, and not long before the onslaught of World War 11.

All is presented in non naturalistic mode with sensational lighting by Paul Anderson. Much is made of the symbolism of the bloodied jacket that is preserved in the museum that Franz Ferdinand wore when he was assassinated (Anton changes into a similar military jacket.) There is also the visual symbolism of the white dress that Edith wears and the constantly moving table on which Edith is whisked around the stage. Eerily sometimes just the dress itself is moved. Edith’s instability is indicated at times by the use of two actors lip synching her words.There are some tables and chairs in a sparse set, and the actors speak into on-stage microphones. The action is at times frenetic, at others frozen in tableaux. Continue reading BEWARE OF PITY @ ROSLYN PACKER THEATRE

LE GATEAU CHOCOLAT ‘ICONS’ : A FANTASTIC SHOW

From his dramatic entry from the rear of the Magic Mirror Spiegeltent to his closing with a singalong version of Whitney Houston’s HOW WILL I KNOW, Le Chateau Chocolat comes up  with a fantastic show. Admittedly, in the singalong he didn’t think the Sydney audience was up to reaching the high notes so he said that he would take it from there. This and similar asides during the concert were performed with charm and humour.

He performs a variety of songs from his musical heroes and links them with stories about his life. Madonna is his number one icon but he also plays loving tributes to various disco artists, David Bowie, Meatloaf, Pavarotti and a few fairly eclectic performers. His interpretations are heartfelt, innovative and make full use of his wide ranging powerful voice.

Le Gateau Chocolat entertains us with his soundtrack from when he completed the London marathon. When the audience laughs at his finishing time he takes them to task, explaining what a herculean task it was and the similarities he now has with Usain Bolt! Continue reading LE GATEAU CHOCOLAT ‘ICONS’ : A FANTASTIC SHOW

MAN WITH THE IRON NECK. A COMMUNING OF SADNESS AND RESILIENCE

Production Images: Victor Frankowski

Treading gently with ancient feet or eagerly wandering on a day trip to the Blue Mountains, Australians all, we know that sound.  Memory calls as the audio and projected images take us into bush outside the town.  The ghost gums tower and the senses twitch with the recalled smell of eucalypts and the shimmer of heat on the skin.  Thus begins the bonding, empathetic and emotional journey into the pain and generational despair of our First Nations brothers and sisters.  A sharing in performance, a production resonating with resilience and love in the face of loss.

MAN WITH THE IRON NECK is an obsession for Ash who has suffered a loss far too common.  The former was a stuntman who risked, for the entertainment of others, leaping with a rope around his neck and Ash is working at survival just as The Great Peters laboured to endure each trick. We meet his girlfriend Evelyn and her twin brother Bear who are living on the edge of town with aspirations and abilities to get them away from there despite their evident strength in family, personified in Mum Rose. Continue reading MAN WITH THE IRON NECK. A COMMUNING OF SADNESS AND RESILIENCE

JULIA HOLTER @ THE SPIEGELTENT

Pic by Tonje Thilesen

Performing in the spectacular Spiegeltent, Julia Holter’s ambitious post-rock music reflects on the turmoil and disharmony of a post truth world. There are moments of extraordinary beauty in her and the band’s performance but she is quick to subvert the melody and introduce tension and discordance. The overall sound is an intriguing mixture of pop, classical and dissonant music.

Her ethereal voice is employed as another instrument and often soars with Dina Maccabee’s violin and Sarah Belle Reid’s trumpet or flugelhorn. Her voice is at times reminiscent of Regina Spektor, Nico or Kate Bush but she has her own style and is quite happy to let her vocals blend in with the other instruments to achieve the sound she is creating.

Julia’s music has been described as melding influences from classical music and baroque to post-rock, 70s pop and folk, and found sound, all held together by her electronic keyboard and delicate vocals. There are also Eastern European folk influences, especially when Tashi Wada is playing the bagpipes. Continue reading JULIA HOLTER @ THE SPIEGELTENT

THE NUTCRACKER AND I : A SUBLIME AND ENCHANTING EXPERIENCE

 

The Nutcracker and I, by Alexandra Dariescu, with ballerina Désirée Ballantyne, animations by Yeast Culture, and choreography by Jenna Lee. Photo by Mark Allen

Blending a piano rendition of Tchaikovky’s romantic melodies with 35,000 digital images and a live ballerina THE NUTCRACKER AND I produces a purely enjoyable and magical creation. Having both a world renowned concert pianist and ballerina performing against constantly changing colourful backgrounds and characters is a sublime and enchanting experience.

The production of THE NUTCRACKER AND I is quite beautiful but an unusual format. Images are projected onto a see-through black gauze screen at the front of the stage. Pianist Alexandra Dariescu and ballerina Désirée Ballantyne are illuminated behind the screen. The images tell the classical Nutcracker story. Snow is falling as the Silberhaus family decorates their Christmas tree. The magician and toymaker Drosselmeyer arrives. Presents are exchanged including a nutcracker. Clara’s dream that night includes the nutcracker fighting with the Mouse King before being transformed into a prince. The familiar story continues with matching images, both static and dynamic, on screen.                                               Continue reading THE NUTCRACKER AND I : A SUBLIME AND ENCHANTING EXPERIENCE

THE WEEKEND @ CARRIAGEWORKS

 

Shakira Clanton is outstanding In Henrietta Baird’s harrowing one-woman play, THE WEEKEND. She dances, swears, laughs and cries as she tells Lara’s story of her search, in various pockets of Redfern, for her wayward husband. She embodies the voices of a variety of women, men and children. These various characters are full of personality and contrasts. Drug use is prevalent in this community and Shakira captures the different levels of degradation apparent in their voices as she searches through some decrepit drug dens in the towers of Redfern. Her performance as Lara captures her humanity, foibles, humour and determination of this wonderfully written character.

This play focuses on the conflicts of a mother who loves her children and goes interstate for three weeks work so that she can provide for them. She leaves them in the care of her partner Simon, the children’s father, but his drug addiction leads him to abandoning the children. She has seen many admirable aspects of Simon but as she discovers the drug houses he frequents and the women he has relationships with she begins to realise more about the situation and about herself. Continue reading THE WEEKEND @ CARRIAGEWORKS