No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Category: Misc. Reviews

In Brief: I Met (Port Road) The Other Day; A Little Horseplay

The Australian Bureau of Worthiness has been tasked with traveling around Australia and asking people what makes your day worth it?  In this presentation at the end of a residency at Port Adelaide, Emma Beech walks us through her explorations in the Port.

Beech exudes honesty and care in her presentation for the Bureau, and in this she sits on an intriguing line between presenter and performer.  The parts of the show which is Beech herself and the parts which are a character are blurred in this line which almost becomes frustrating: how can you comment on a performance when you’re never quite sure were it starts and it ends?

As just an occasional visitor to the Port, at times I felt disconnected from the piece: when it a work is so responsive to a place, how much do you need to understand the place to understand the work?

Yet there is a simple beauty to hearing what makes people’s day “worth it” and how people interpret just what “worth it” means.  Some stories were twinged with sadness and pain, but by focusing on the good they all brought joy.  I was reminded about this video work as I watched, and the gift that is given when you ask someone to reflect on something good.

A clown, an opera signer, and a little horse: this is A Little Horseplay.  A seemingly only tangentially related set of sketches and scenes, A Little Horseplay is so beguilingly delightful I think I sat there the whole of the presentation mouth agape, smitten.

Stephen Sheehan is a remarkably honest performer: he tells these extended jokes – a set up, a punch line, paragraphs of exposition in between – which you feel on paper would come off at best flat, and at worst terribly unfunny, yet with Sheehan’s calm honesty they are hilarious.  It would be deadpan except the knowing, inclusive glint in his eye, and it is through his quietness that the audience becomes uproarious.

Although to say Sheehan was the star would be an outright lie.  Understudy horse, Mouse, stole the show.  I think everyone just needs to throw the mantra “never work with children and animals” out the window, and insist all productions be performed with the aid of a horse.  The mash of comedy, opera and a horse, of course, almost sounds as if it couldn’t work, but the humour and the drama of just having a horse on the stage transcends any confusion in genre.  Being Mouse’s first performance we weren’t privy to the whole in-development work, Sheehan had to stop and explain the end – but in the context, this worked.  Being told what a horse should do is almost as fascinating as if it were to all go to plan: and is that the fantastical thing about live theatre, anyway?

Review: Shaolin Warriors

This review was originally published at, download the iPhone app and carry my reviews in your pocket!

You know when you’re at home and sick, or exhausted, or on holidays so it’s not like you’re going to be doing anything productive anyway, and you’re watching The Brady Bunch because that was legitimately an excellent TV show when you were six? And when it ends the remote isn’t within reach, but because you’re sick, or exhausted, or on holidays so it’s not like you’re going to be doing anything productive anyway, you decide to watch the terrible ‘80s midday movie sequel? You heard the original was good, so maybe this one will be okay.

That midday movie is Shaolin Warriors. And it’s really not okay. There’s that cheese factor of watching something that was clearly choreographed thirty years ago; it’s unintentionally hilarious in all the wrong places, but you walk away just a little worse off for having watched it.
Featuring such compositional hits as ‘Pensive Woods for Synthesisers’, ‘Kung-Fu Training Sequence for Synthesisers’, ‘80s Law TV Drama for Synthesisers’, ‘CD Track Skipping Over Scratches’, and my personal favourite, ‘Silence When The Scene Wasn’t Properly Timed to the Length of the Track’, the sound design is as perplexing as it is awful. Occasionally the cast brought on Zhangu drums, their boom echoing throughout the theatre, energy moving from the stage to the audience, but these moments were short lived. Why use live music when you could choose to play ‘Chinese Drums Over Pan Flute for Synthesisers’?

Not to be outdone, though, lighting design gets in on the act. There is no cohesion in how or when the lights change. The performers are often partially obscured in darkness before the lighting not-so-quickly changes to rectify this.

While the large ensemble of men are skilled and occasionally show some great feats of dexterity, leaps and strength, Shaolin Warriors is seemingly choreographed for a maximum number of applause breaks and minimum amount of artistry or effort. Far from that great circus mantra of repeating a trick until it lands, here the interval curtain fell after just two failed attempts at ramming a log into a performer’s stomach: twice he jumped back and scuttled away before impact.

The best part of the production was seeing 40-odd young boys (and two young girls) have the time of their life when brought onto stage to learn a routine, the joy on their faces radiating across the theatre. The remaining two audience-participation sections, however, were simply awkward as grown men uncomfortably followed instructions from the performers, the will of the audience waning for the tryingly long time these scenes took.

We’ve become lucky enough to appreciate and expect circus with all the artistry and wit of the likes of Cirque De Soleil and CircusOz – the Shaolin Warriors possess none of this. In the OzAsia Festival, an event ostensibly supposed to show us the best of Asian art, Shaolin Warriors is a tired relic. It’s best to get up and find that remote.

Thoughts: La Sonnambula

Or: Musings on an opera, from someone going for the first time.

La Sonnambula

For my first foray into the world of opera, I and a group of friends made our way to La Sonnambula by State Opera South Australia.  I mainly enjoyed the evening.  The design was gorgeous, the singing outstanding, the event fancy, but I came away feeling no connection to the (near non-existent) plot.

Designer Richard Roberts uses a wooden box set to create a simple canvas for all locations to be suggested though the use of set pieces and lighting.  The three wooden walls are made of separate slats, moved to create entry/exit points or to represent tree trunks in the forest scene, before the back wall is entirely removed and replaced with a turning mill in the second act to great effect.  Built upon the near-constantly revolving stage is a wooden platform, sloping down towards one corner, which helps to add a dimension of movement to this otherwise very static piece.

Roberts’ simple set creates a winsome frame for the performance, with scope and setting further added by Matt Scott’s lighting.  Scott subtly uses the lights to indicate passage of time – as the warm yellow of sunset melts away into the blues of dusk – and place – the forest of act two sees the stage awash in green.  Light focus is also used to heighten the tension of the romantic escapades.

La Sonnabula was written by Vincenzo Bellini in the bel canto tradition, which means “beautiful singing” (thank you, program).  The music is beautiful, with particular note going to the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra’s string section, superbly lush under the refined singing of the cast.  Emma Matthews in the titular role is stunning, her high soprano voice playing over the music with ease as she seems to not pause for breath.

But, when you combine such beautiful music to what is really a terribly stupid plot, the piece fails to have any emotional resonance.  With such a strong commitment to the beauty of the music, even at times where there should be tension or stress between characters, Bellini never lets go of an elegance or a refinement which allows all emotions to skim along the opera at the same level.

Sitting in the gods, we had a good angle to take in both the staging and the surtitles without neck cramming.  I was shocked at how many syllables Italian seems to have.  Or, perhaps more accurately, how many syllables opera can add to a simple sentence.  It was some ways confusing: we are always reading a step or two in front of the action, and it was sometimes hard to differentiate which character was singing which line.

I spent much of the production surprised as to why the performers weren’t dancing.  When I sit in the Festival Theatre, it’s for the ballet more often than not, and with ballet being one of my great loves, I very strongly associate orchestras with the ballet.  I don’t think I’ll be forsaking my love of ballet (or theatre) for the opera anytime soon, but if the opportunity came up to go again I wouldn’t say no.

And now: A new adaptation!  La Sonnabula Abridged (and in English) 

The Players:

Amina – An orphan, and therefore the prettiest girl in the village. Loves Elvino.

Elvino – The wealthy catch of the village.  Loves Amina. 

Count Rodolfo – A count. Loves women.

Lisa – An innkeeper.  She wears red, so you know she’s a hussy.  Loves Elvino.

Teresa – Amina’s adoptive mother.

Alessio – A bit part.  Loves Lisa.

Notary – Old man, comic relief.

The Villagers – Slightly off their collective rocker.

Act One

Scene One: A pretty Swiss-Alpine hamlet.

Lisa: Nobody likes me, everybody hates me.  Why doesn’t Elvino love me like I love him?

Alessio: I love you Lisa.

Lisa: You’re boring.  Go away.

Villagers: Yay!  Amina’s getting married to Elvino!  She’s our favourite!

Amina enters.

Amina: Thanks villagers!  You rock!  I love you adoptive mother, because I’m an orphan.  Thanks for the music Alessio, sorry you got such a raw deal with Lisa.

Elvino enters.

Elvino: Sorry I’m late!  I asked my dead mother’s grave if we can marry, and she said go for it! Read the rest of this entry »

Review: transumer: deviate from the norm, Adhocracy 2011

When was the last time you fcuked things up?  I mean really, did something so left of field, so unlike yourself (so unlike anyone!), so brilliant and wonderful and bizarre that all you can do is feel absolute joy?

For me, it was Sunday.

As you begin transumer: deviate from the norm, you are handed a red bag. In your red bag goes one yellow balloon, one piece of white chalk, and one animal mask.  In your hands goes an “i-torch” – a contraption which sees an iPod touch with large headphones sticking up off a large metal torch.  Onto the torch, you stick a small, plastic animal friend, who you say hello to, and will get back to later.

In a group of ten, you receive your instructions from a pair of mother fcukers.  On the count of three, everyone presses the big red button: Deviate.

Participants listen to instructions, ready to begin.

Listening to our instructions. Photo: Heath Britton

pvi collective’s transumer has groups of people walking the winter streets of Port Adelaide for one hour where they are invited to, well, deviate.  Defy conventions, tell the city what you want from it, laugh in the face of authority, overthrow the institutions. All while making sure to cross at the green light.

In one hour we wrote on chalk on the pavement, we created an urban home for our animal friend, we did nothing at all for one minute in defiance of the working day.  With a yellow ball, we played dodge ball against the monarchy; with yellow balloons, we took part in our own piece of socially acceptable terrorism – blowing stuff up.  In a one-minute, sadistic version of the Beep Test we tried to topple a bank by running in to it.  Again.  And again.  Shoulder blades, mine are currently yelling loud and clear, are not the suggested body part for impact.

Read the rest of this entry »

Almost a Review: A Comedy

On Saturday night I sat through four hours, three minutes and twenty-two seconds of theatre.  Not multiple fringe shows pushed together, because to include that would add another eighty-odd minutes.  No, that was four hours, three minutes and twenty-two seconds of one theatre performance, only briefly interrupted by one toilet break and two trips to the bar (don’t you love it when I share?).

Why did I do this to myself?  The initial answer is because I was asked to.  And after the first hour I did not think I would stay for four – everyone I knew leaving in that break didn’t help matters much.  But after the initial hurdle of adjusting myself to the bizarre and somewhat psychotic world I found myself in, I felt myself falling into and being inextricably attracted to Brown Council and A Comedy. It took me the first hour to get what was happening, the second hour to get in to it, the third hour to appreciate it, and by the fourth I was lost in uproariousness.

The four members of Brown Council – Frances Barrett, Kate Blackmore, Kelly Doley & Diana Smith – have five acts to show us: Slapstick, Dancing Monkey, Cream Pie, Stand Up, and Magic Trick.    They all involve varying levels of embarrassment and pain, the anti being notched up every time an act is repeated through the hour.

When do we see each act?  That is up to us.  The audience sitting in their dunces hats are asked to yell out and vote on which act to see next.  A Comedy isn’t just a show which asks for audience participation: it needs it, it demands it.  So the differing dynamics of the hour-to-hour audience greatly changed the vibe in the room.  That became part of my fun in sitting through four hours: watching an audience dynamic change; watching the cast loosen into the night with a couple of beers; feeling the audience loosen into the night with their beers and repetition of the hours; experiencing myself surrendering to the Brown Council, to the insanity, to the laughter.

Every hour the host changes, and the remaining three women move cycle around who is going to perform the next act.  When not performing, they sit at a table covered bananas, peanuts, a keyboard, and a counting up clock.

Rather than being a source of antagonism, the ticking clock became a friend.  Knowing exactly how long we had to wait for a break on the hour, or until the four hours were up became comforting.  When you know there is thirty-seven minutes left, or two hours and fifteen minutes left, or three hours and eight minutes left it becomes easier to deal with.  Three hours and eight minutes is a long time, but it’s easier to know than to not know.

It is the known that I came to appreciate as the show went on which made it easier to watch, changing it from A Comedy to a comedy.  Some things never got easier to watch – Magic Trick became increasingly painful as the night went on, I started to worry a bit when I had run out of change for the Dancing Monkey (things I never thought I’d say at a bar include “Could I get my change in coins for the monkeys?”) – but in watching Brown Council repeating acts I became more aware and accepting of the ritual and repetition.

Accepting that Slapstick had been done dozens of times before made watching it okay: more akin to watching a game than watching a torture.  While our hosts always introduced the show by assuring us they were always in control, it was only through watching Brown Council going through the motions (always performed with energy and a healthy (?) dose of menace) that I could accept that.  And in accepting that, it became less painful to laugh.

Sometimes it was hard to convince myself they were in control.  They must know what is suggested when they don blindfolds and stand in the half-light on a stage lined with tomatoes.  It’s not like it’s the first time they’re doing the show.  They must be for throwing.  Right?  They expect that, right?  It’s okay, right?  I did it; I threw some tomatoes.  I’m not proud of it.  But I don’t regret it either.

Part of the fun in laughing at this show is knowing that perhaps it’s wrong to laugh, and it’s probably certainly wrong to throw tomatoes at people.  But some of the fun is also knowing that it’s really really funny to watch people make painful idiots of themselves.  Fun comes from knowing that maybe it’s wrong, but it is oh so right.

And, yes, increased alcohol consumption doesn’t hurt either.

Over the night emerged my favourite: Cream Pie.  I think perhaps through everything the cream pie remained relatively innocent, innocuous, painless.  Funny.  And it turns out I really do find people covered in cream hilarious.

I also, it was discovered, like throwing cream pies at fellow audience members rather than cast members (It was lovely to meet you Brett.  I’m not even sorry a little bit.), and oh is getting retaliated against fun.

A Comedy is certainly the show I am most glad I went to this Fringe so far.   I was loopy by the end of the four hours.  I have no idea how Brown Council make it though alive.  I am certainly glad I survived.   “Endurance” and “theatre” aren’t two words you hear together everyday.  This might be your only chance.

Vitalstatistix presents A Comedy, by Brown Council.  Devised and performed by Fran Barrett, Kate Blackmore, Kelly Doley, and Diana Smith.  Dramaturg Daisy Brown, outside eye Julie Anne Long, costume Alia Parker, sound Fred Rodrigues, graphic design Quills and Bamboo.   At the Queens Theatre, remaining performances March 9 and 11.  More information and tickets.

Review: Bubblewrap & Boxes

This review originally appeared on

Luke O’Connor takes special care of his boxes. One day,Christy Flaws arrives in a box of her own. What follows inBubblewrap & Boxes is a series of farcical chases with interpretations of the letters and postcards found in a mailbag.

A generally agreeable show, it fails to rise above mild amusement. The show is at its best – and its young audience the most content – when the show goes back to its title: boxes. The simple pleasure of playing with the boxes: hiding, darting in and out, protection of the small boxes, and not wanting to leave the large boxes. The clowning (and, in particular, the pratfalls) that came with this was the biggest hit with the audience.

The attempt to impose multiple narrative structures, as the two characters take their clues from postcards and letters, is not completely successful. As with the boxes leading the way to simple adventures, the more simple the narrative the more successful the conceit becomes – reading a postcard with a picture of a shark on it gives the actors more to do, and the audience to respond to, rather than an image of the Eifel tower.

Acrobatics are relatively simple, and fluently executed. When they get a chance to play in their roles across the stage, rather than moments of stagnancy, you see O’Connor and Flawshave generous clowning personalities: O’Connor at his best when running in a panic, Flaws at her best when her character shows off.

This show is fine, the performers have talent, and the young audience in the hot Bosco Theatre tent was amused without becoming restless. Yet, it never took any elements and raised the production into something special, beyond much more than an adequate piece of family theatre.

Asking for Trouble presents Bubblewrap & Boxes. Performers Christy Glaws and Luke O’Connor, sound designer Ania Reynolds.

Review: Cantina

This review originally appeared on

Walking into the Spiegeltent is always a somewhat magical experience. Under the canopies held within the confines of mirrors and wood and stained glass windows lies an otherworldliness that Adelaide only becomes privy to during the festival season.

Cantina has taken this magic and transformation to another time and place, expanding it ten-fold. The depression-era inspired design elements seem to take the audience into an old classic seaside circus venue: Brighton, Coney Island.

Seemingly shiny and happy, the joyful and playful opening acts – including tightrope walking in stilettos and Jazz-Age tap routines – give way to a much darker underside of the era the show emulates, and the circus tradition itself. Cantina doesn’t carry with it a can of gloss-paint to cover over the pain: pain and strength and sex of its players are played out right in front of our eyes. The six performers create a circus which is as sexy as it is vicious, in a series of acts unconnected except in characters and an ever-darkening throughline.

The performers repeatedly astound. Henna Kaikula seems not so much to be double-jointed, but in fact lacking joints at all, as she twists in delicious and gut-turning flexibility and control.David Carberry and Daniel Catlow flip and fight with strength and power and brutality that the eye doesn’t want to turn away from. Mozes swings overhead so that the whoosh of air by his feet can be felt on the faces of the audience in the front row, and when he repeatedly makes a red handkerchief disappear in his clothes until there are no more clothes for it to disappear in to, until it still disappears the audience doesn’t quite know where to look at all.

On the opening night in Adelaide one routine didn’t go quite to plan, as Chelsea McGuffin took several false starts to walk across the tops of glass wine bottles on top of a pianola. As in many moments during the show, the audience waited and willed, their collective energy completely vested in McGuffin completing the trick.

I find it interesting, this fallibility we allow in circus performers, the forgiveness we extend to them which perhaps we don’t to actors and dancers and musicians. Perhaps it is that in a circus, we feel there is more of the personality of the performer in the character. Perhaps it is simply the nature of circus allows for re-tries: when a mistake happens, the audience can see the performer strive for achievement repeatedly on the same trick in the one show. Perhaps it is just with live performance there is an element of the feeling of wouldn’t it be a good story to tell, if something went wrong, while in circus the story will be much better if it went right. And in Cantina it does repeatedly go right. Even though McGuffin didn’t completely recover on that act, she came back full strength in later scenes.

Throughout the show, scenes are accompanied or bookended with the ukulele tunings of Nara Demasson, and the show is scored with a combination of recorded and live music, including the pianola acting as a second playing space, and a series of percussion instruments to punctuate the fight scenes. Much of the soundscape, though, comes from the collective gasp or squirm or holding of breath of the audience, as the cast seem to defy laws of science in ways we feel should not possibly be able to happen.

Cantina is powerful stuff. I like my circus a little bit raw, a little bit of pain, and a whole lot of human behind them. While they achieve feats that I can’t even begin to conceive achieving, without veneer, the human heart – and with it, the human strength – is the thing that shines through.

Review: Nothing is Really Difficult (Niets Is Echt Moeilijk)

Nothing Is Really Difficult, Dutch theatre group WAK would like you to believe. Except, it would seem for these three characters. For them, performing is difficult. Really difficult.

Seemingly unbeknown to Bart Strijbos, Dorus van der Meer and Toon Kuijpers, they are about to fall (literally, or rise from under the floor, or stumble) in to a performance, directly in front of an audience. Then they have forty-five minutes to bumble through and entertain their audience.

Nothing Is Really Difficult. But I feel this might be, just a tad.

Performing essentially a series of disjointed clowning sketches, the show is most successful when the power of the purpose built box (rebuilt in Adelaide over several 40°C days) which WAK performs this show in is shown and exploited. The bend of floor-boards, the breaking in of the roof, running and swinging through doors, climbing around near the ceiling, falling through walls: the integration of the nervous and excitable energy of these characters within a space created specifically for them is where this show has the most life.

Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Wau Wau Sisters are as Naked as the Day They Were Born Again!

According to all evidence, the day the Wau Wau Sisters were born, they were covered in glitter.  But apart from all this glitter, they were very very naked.  Lest anyone think this is a show about the sisters being Born Again, I feel that there should be some punctuation in the title: As Naked As The Day They Were Born, Again!

Although it would be rather hilarious if an evangelical Christian group thought an 11:30pm (veering on the side of 12am) show in the Garden of Unearthly Delights was about two women being born again, and walked in to that.  (And there is a nice parallel which could be drawn from their past show The Last Supper … )

So assuming you are at least somewhat versed in the Fringe (whether that be Adelaide or other I don’t suppose it would matter), I’m going to guess that you figured The Wau Wau Sisters are as Naked as the Day They Were Born Again! did involve copious amounts of nudity.

What you may not assume (because, perhaps, with the Fringe, these assumptions are better left untouched) is that nudity 1) is the very first thing you see in this show – no time for a strip tease here, and 2) is wonderfully, delightfully, marvelously captivating and fun and funny.

This picture is called "Cowgirls trying for it all to be okay" Photo by Don Spiro

When they arrived for last year’s Fringe, the sisters’ suitcases never showed up, and the duo received much publicity as their producer Daniel Clarke (@danioclarke) “tweeted the shit out of it”.  This year –  would you believe it! – the same thing has happened, and to save trouble they are doing the show sans clothes. When Clarke bursts in part way through the show with the finally arrived suitcases, it seems as if the day is saved – they can wear their costumes after all!  But no, that would be far too easy, wouldn’t it?

An almost reverse burlesque is brought to the show as Adrienne Truscott and Tanya Gagnes tease the audience as they get dressed.  The show in the always magical Spiegeltent  is peppered with acrobatics on the trapeze, or on each other, Country and Western songs which are perhaps just a little bit wrong (who doesn’t love that great family song classic, You Cut the Cocaine, and I’ll Cut the Cheese?), a healthy dose of audience participation from two very willing and generous men, and, of course, more nudity.

I laughed so loud and so hard their were almost tears.  The Wau Wau sisters are fantastically funny and cleaver, and they delight – just as the audience delights – in this free nudity which isn’t really about anything more than can’t it be fun to be naked?

Daniel Clarke presents The Wau Wau Sisters are as Naked as the Day they were Born Again! The Garden of Unearthly Delights, nightly at 11:30 until 27th Feb (excluding Mondays). More information and tickets.

Review: Stevl Shefn and his Translator Fatima

This review originally appeared on

Stevl Shefn (Steve Sheehan) has come down to the Garden of Unearthly Delights to share with his audience a series of stories about his life and this world. Stories about his aunt’s adult video shop, his inventor uncle, his “hermaphrodite” partner (with great detail given to all four types of genitalia possessed), as Stevl takes diversion after diversion, painting a crazier and crazier picture of himself.

The only problem is, he doesn’t speak English.

In fact, he doesn’t seem to speak any discernable language at all. Which is where Fatima (Emma Beech) comes in. The buzz and jump, the out-dated eccentricity of the plaid suit, the wild-paced physicality and even wilder eyes of Stevl are markedly contrasted in Fatima, hidden, conservative, still and reserved behind her burqa. The audience are asked to put their faith inFatima and her translations, and are constantly having to measure up: is Stevl really this crazy, truly this anomalous, or is Fatima twisting this translation? If she is twisting this translation, is it as simple as a miss-translation, a poor understanding of the finer points of Sheehan’s conceived gibberish, hodge-podge Eastern-European language, or is this a deliberate mockery of him and his country? Even though only Fatima’s eyes are visible, Beech manages to convey her sense of dissatisfaction in Stevl – particularly when she is asked to translate his translation of his vacuum cleaner.

While the translator joke doesn’t quite sustain the fifty-minute act, enough gems are peppered throughout to justify its length.Sheehan bounds across the tiny stage of The Campanile with an incredible physicality: the verbal bounce and patter of this bubbly unintelligible language is neatly partnered with the physical bounce and patter, made all the more evident paired against the smooth and calm Australian of Fatima.

I’ll leave this review with a few words from my vacuum cleaner: zwjzwjzwj zwjzwjzwj zwjzwjzwj zwjzwjzwj zwjzwjzwj. To understand what she is saying, I guess you’ll have to see the show.