No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Tag: Adelaide Art Orchestra

Review: Ode To Nonsense

Slingsby's Ode To Nonsense, photo by Andy Rasheed

Nicholas Lester and cast. Photo by Andy Rasheed.

Previous to seeing and reviewing the show, I spent a significant amount of time with the company in rehearsal. You can read my documentation of that in parts one, two, and three. This experience undoubtedly coloured the way I saw the work, so take from this what you will.

Edward Lear (1812 – 1888) was one of the first writers to create work specifically for the entertainment of children. His nonsense drawings and writings have lived on, endearing themselves to many new generations of children, while his paintings and illustrations of wildlife and landscapes command ongoing respect from a whole different audience. Ode to Nonsense is an ode to the life of Lear, from Adelaide theatre company Slingby, in conjunction with the State Opera of South Australia.

A significant departure for the company, this work moves from the intimate work Slingsby are known for – both in terms of performers and audience – into a production with a cast of eighteen and an audience of 1000.

Walking into the old Her Majesty’s Theatre under a garland of green flags and fairy lights, director Andy Packer and designer Geoff Cobham have created a world that speaks from the same world of their previous works. With much of the usual suspects in the creative team, including Quincy Grant as the composer, visually and aurally the work seems to capture the spirit of Slingsby that has brought the company such acclaim. In Ode to Nonsense though, there is something that doesn’t quite gel, and we are left with a work that is curiously flat.

Lear (Nicholas Lester) has returned to his adopted home of San Remo with his perennial servant Giorgio (Adam Goldburn) to see his love Gussie (Johanna Allen) – not that he could ever admit to that. While Jane Goldney’s libretto has found moments of great heart in these scenes, and moments of joyous frivolity in the embracing of Lear’s nonsense, the gap between these moments is never truly bridged, and so audience members are never truly immersed in either world: Ode to Nonsense never reaches beyond the proscenium.

It’s a work that perhaps is captured in nearly-theres. In exploring the world of Lear and his friends, Goldney’s work alternately suffers from under-exposition, requiring a solid knowledge of Lear’s life and work, then over-exposition with too much stake in explanation placed in a single song. Taken in isolation, Goldney’s scenes under Packer’s careful touch of direction paint insightful snapshots of old friendships, of never embraced romance, of the triumph of embracing worlds and words that cannot be truly grasped or explained. Built up into a narrative, though, neither Goldney nor Packer have solved how to stop the strands unraveling.

Read the rest of this entry »

Reviews, who are they good for? (Including Review: A Chorus Line)

On Friday December 31st, A Chorus Line had its first preview at the Adelaide Festival Centre.  Before the curtain even fell, Adelaide Now (the online branch of The Advertiser) had published an article about the first performance entitled A Chorus Line Dazzles At Premiere.  It’s your typical arts fluff-piece – “stars were made”, producer tells you you should go, Adelaide’s the place to be, etc.  Critics weren’t invited until the official opening night of Jan 3, yet journalist Emily Watkins – the Sunday Mail’s Crime and Justice Reporter – still tells us the production “dazzled the opening night crowd.”  Can’t you just see that on the posters?

On Jan 1st, the Adelaide Festival Centre’s twitter asked tweeters what they thought of “opening night”:

before getting well and truly in the act, tweeting Watkins article as their “first review”, to which I replied:

To which I got no response.

So not only do we have the local newspaper conflating a first performance with an opening night, we have the Adelaide Festival Centre also ignoring this distinction, and then calling an article a review.

I mainly thought no more of it, until down to the Festival Theatre I went on January 3rd to pick up my tickets and watch the show to write my review.  And it wasn’t until I sat down in my seat that I fully comprehended that critics had been invited to see and respond to a production which is a replica of a production which first played Broadway in 1975, where it continued for fifteen years. Which first played the West End in 1976; Sydney in 1977.  Which won nine Tony Awards, the Pulitzer Prize, became the longest running show on Broadway, and played to 6.5 million people on that stage alone. These are all facts which could leave someone in awe, but I was left with just one thought:

What am I doing here?  What are any of us critics doing here?

What will any of us have to say about a production which has been kicking around the globe for 37 years?  What is that going to offer to theatrical discussion?

Read the rest of this entry »

In Brief: Adelaide Cabaret Festival Opening 2011

As per usual (well, as much as twice can be considered usual), the high sheen, glitz, glamour, and product placement of the 2011 Adelaide Cabaret Festival Variety Gala was overshadowed by the under-rehearsed, over-enthusiastic insanity of Mark Nadler’s Broadway Hootenanny. 

While the Festival Centre stage gave way to the (considerably thinned out) Adelaide Art Orchestra and some of the largest voices of the festival, it’s disappointing that as a format it really doesn’t leave much room for what is my favourite part of cabaret, the connection the performer forms with their audience, and the stories they intersperse between the songs.  Here, singers are invited onstage to sing their song: one short performance and little else.   Consequently, the performer which had the greatest opportunity to shine was emerging cabaret artist Gillian Cosgriff, with a piece by Simon Taylor entitled The Song Song, which gave Cosgriff a true opportunity to talk to her audience.

But any fears of not getting to know your performers are not necessary in the Piano Bar.  As Nadler frantically plays the piano, he brings up any performer he can find.  On opening night, we were treated to bubbleologist Dr Froth, David Daniel Boys, Nadler’s “future employer” Kate Ceberano, Carrie Rawlings, Mitchell Butel, and a line up of dancers featuring a very shocked yours truly.

Nadler’s energy is insatiable, his performers brilliant, and the love which pounds through the Piano Bar, packed to the rafters with not a spare chair in sight for the many standing or sitting on the floor, is a wonder to behold.  While the Gala is fun for its introduction to the festival, it doesn’t stand an iota of a chance standing next to the Hootenanny.

Mark Nadler’s Broadway Hootenanny continues tonight and Sunday, 9:45pm in the Piano Bar, free.  The Adelaide Cabaret Festival runs to June 25.  Click here for more information.

For all my cabaret festival reviews, go here.