No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Tag: Adelaide Festival Centre

An Open Letter to the Adelaide Festival Centre (Or, food and the AFC, part three)

Dear Adelaide Festival Centre,

I know it was a long time ago, and I’m really dredging things out of the past now, but remember a year and a half ago when your kitchen wasn’t open post shows in your bar the Bistro?  But then you realised this was a miss-service to the thousands of people you could have through your doors on a typical night, and you changed it?

It has been a really fantastic year, I must say.  The chips are no longer my go-to food, but those spiced chickpeas are divine.  I love going down there post show for a glass of wine and some bar-snacks.  Your website informs me “Bistro by the food business offers idyllic à la carte, pre and post theatre dining experiences,” and who doesn’t love post theatre dining experiences?

Although, maybe the answer is you?

Tonight, I went to the Adelaide Festival Theatre to see A Streetcar with the Adelaide Festival. Afterwards, I planned to take Melbourne theatre critic Cameron Woodhead down to the Bistro for a drink and a debrief on the show.  Imagine my surprise when we found ourselves, with several dozen other people who had just been at the show, staring at the locked glass doors to the Dunstan Playhouse foyer.

It was great to introduce someone to this city by telling them the biggest theatre venue in this town doesn’t open its bar on the opening night on one of the biggest theatre productions in the Festival. Really makes us look swell as a happening city where the festival season makes things happen.

It’s nice to know that, once again, as a venue, you’re fine for thousands of people to not sit around to drink, eat, and talk about the work they’ve just seen, engaging beyond sitting inside the theatre itself.

But seriously: I thought we’d worked this out already?

Looking forward to your reply,


Addendum: A Chorus Line, the commercial musical, and the review

My piece on A Chorus Line and the thoughts I had surrounding reviewing such an existing entity had spawned a very interesting discussion on the role of the review and the reviewer (please join in if you have more to add).

But, what I’m asking from you now is what do you want from a review of an existing, commercial musical?  If that’s a thirty-seven year old production of A Chorus Line or if that’s, say, a replica of a current mega-musical such as Wicked – what do you want a review to tell you about the locally playing production, when you can just as easily google dozens from NYC or around the world?

I want specific answers. In the comments on the first post Keith said:

pointing out sound problems is a big deal and mentioning current actors in the cast is important, too. (The cast will use ACL reviews like an indepedent theatre company would, for pull-quotes and to build their reputations.) But you’re just a different part of the conversation with a show like this; you’re speaking to people who will see this cast on that stage – and probably not to any future readers with interests in ACL.

So is it these things: execution of production qualities, more detail of individual performances?  Is it more background and context, or is it less?  Does it matter that it’s been running for forty-odd years?

What do you dear reader of this blog – you audience member, you artist, you marketer – read a review of such a show for?  What didn’t I talk about in my first review which I should have?  What did I talk about which you wish I’d left out?  What do you want to know, or want to discuss with me, or discuss with anyone when you leave a show like this?

You help me, and I might learn to be a better writer.  I might even try and write you another review.

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 »

Adelaide’s Lament: Pent-up Frustrations

However much I talk about youth issues in Adelaide, it is in many ways a city where it is great to be a young maker of things – because the generation above us is missing.  They’re living in Sydney or Melbourne.  It’s much easier to find yourself noticed or to raise your voice above the din when there isn’t much of a crowd which needs to be broken through.  But how is this impacting on the younger and emerging generations of artists?  Is the cultural drain, coupled with a lack of venues where independent artists can present – and where audiences interested in independent work can attend – and Adelaide’s insularity having a negative impact on the quality of art produced?

In both Brisbane and Sydney this year, I saw work by people who were once based in Adelaide, but now these writers, directors, actors, and stage managers, live and create work in other cities for other audiences.  This work ran the gauntlet from among the best (The Seagull) to among the worst (Woyzeck) I saw this year, but the point is I couldn’t have seen it at home.  I don’t blame them – I’m not planning on sticking around forever – but this has a two-fold effect on the cultural ecology of Adelaide.  Not only are we losing these artists and these voices, we’re also losing the effect these artists can have on the generation who follows them: the knowledge base and the talent which can be shared is lost.

It is, of course, a self-perpetuating cycle.  The “brain-drain” creates its own pull, the more creative people that leave, the more others feel they need to leave, too, to find new opportunities,  be them creative, employment, or creative employment orientated.   Then, particularly in the case of arts administrators, as people start to return to Adelaide to raise their families, having worked interstate almost becomes a prerequisite for many higher level jobs.  There is, it seems, even the perception that you must leave in order to advance in a career in Adelaide.

It is not only the artists who leave, it is the other people interested in punctuating their lives with arts and culture outside of the festival context.  The more these people leave, the harder it is for artists to find audiences, and the more artists leave to move interstate.

The pull of the Adelaide artists in Sydney or Melbourne grows ever stronger, the pull of Adelaide grows ever weaker.

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Review: The Book of Everything

With special guest reviewer Aria Noori, aged 11.

"You're a very special boy, you know." (Whittet and original cast member Yael Stone as Eliza.)

The Book of Everything review by Jane Howard, aged 22

It is the summer of 1951, and we are in Amsterdam, Holland, Europe, Northern Hemisphere, Earth, Solar System, Galaxy, Universe, Space.  We have a birds-eye view of Thomas Klopper (Matthew Whittet) aged nearly ten, and his book of everything.  Pappa (Pip Miller) says all good books are about God, but Thomas isn’t quite sure what his book will be about yet.

Thomas sees things that other people don’t see.  In his imagination, he sees terrible hailstorms in the Amsterdam summer; he sees tropical fish, his favourite guppies, in the rivers and canals.  In his house, he also sees things that aren’t seen outside those walls: he sees his father hit his mother (Claire Jones).

Based on the book by Guus Kuijer, The Book of Everything is delightfully funny, heart-warmingly touching, and heart-achingly sad.  It is brave theatre; theatre for children, about children; theatre which at times is hard to watch.  More sad than it is scary, Richard Tulloch’s adaptation tackles some big issues: domestic abuse, questioning and redefining faith, protofeminism, unlikely friendships, lasting effects of World War Two, love.  It is certainly a piece for older children, and one that saw many shielded eyes, but through the sadness seeps through an undeniable bravery, the strength that children can find in themselves, the happiness that is waiting for them. Read the rest of this entry »

A brief note on our new ADs

I am so excited by the current changing of the guard in Australian theatre. I’ve posted links to speeches by Marion Potts of Malthouse before and I just find her ideas about art, theatre, and the creative avenues we can go down compelling and inspiring; a couple of weeks ago I briefly met and spoke to Ralph Myers in the Belvoir St foyer, a theatre which has such a strength in programming this year, and he had a fantastic energy about him and brilliant thoughts to theatre; and tonight, I again briefly met Wesley Enoch of the Queensland Theatre Company after hearing him speak on a panel on the ‘Significance of Indigenous Art in Contemporary Society’ at the Festival Centre, and he is bring such a strong vision and exciting direction to that company.  We might be at the start of something big.

Review: Introducing Molly Pope

Nervous yet confident hands grasping her small and suitably retro suitcase, Molly Pope surveys the world spread out before her. New York City. The Big Apple. The Big Time. Broadway.

This is the city which will take little Molly Pope, conveniently born a red-headed orphan when both her parents died during childbirth, from her small town to stardom. It won’t be easy, but Molly has watched enough movies in the convent, where the nuns played movies to raise money in the face of dwindling Sunday attendance numbers, that she knows how to follow a path to The Top.

Molly Pope

With her acting course she is surely qualified to be your waitress.  Oh… you… sorry?  No, but if you just look at her resume.  Are you sure, when you hear her name on the radio you can say “she worked here!”  But… Okay.  Sure.  No, no, that’s fine.

It will be rocky, sure, but if anyone can make it, it’s Polly Mope. That’s the name they’ll be yelling, Polly Mope!

Well, yes, it is is too bad they won’t be yelling Molly Pope.

It is Molly Pope!

And you’re right, it’s not the nicest bar, but it’s a job.  And she’s no waitress here, sir, so if you could just find one of the other girls.

Oh, you’re a … producer? You’re not a producer! You are?! A Broadway producer?!  Well, if you would just stick around for one song, Molly will be right back and she would love to chat. Just hold on for one quick song, she’ll be here in a flash.

Just you wait, it may not look like much now, but just you wait, it’s a long climb to that top and Molly is going to hit every rung – twice! Sure, once will be on the way down, but we can forget that one, can’t we?

But he’s not in. Again. No, no, Molly understands, he’s a very busy man. If he would just send her a text, just so she can know what’s going on.  Just a quick text, that’s all she asks.

A letter.  That’s nice.  That is nice.  That’s… oh.

But never-mind.  Molly Pope will be okay.  There’s more to the world than New York City.  Touring, escaping the city, that’s where she’ll make it.  And boy does she make it.

What?  No.  No!  She was thinking of you the whole time; it’s not cheating then.  He looked like you.  She swears he looked just like you.  Molly Pope surely doesn’t know what you’re insinuating.

And then… is that it?  Is that where it ends?  Molly Pope will have none of that. She’s seen the movies: a little drugs, a little strip, then the press loves nothing more than a good come back story. You just have to find the right angle. Or angles, even.  The right inspiration.  That Hitchock, he had some good ideas going for him, didn’t he…?

In Introducing Molly Pope we are taken along Molly’s insatiable journey chasing stardom in New York City.  In a delightful melding of 80-years of pop music (thank you, press-kit) with the jazz flavour of Pope’s rich, brassy tones favoured by the American musical of the middle of the last century, Pope takes us along the rocking journey of the heightened reality of Molly’s rise and fall.

Appearing without the band in the above video, simply (ha!) with the sensational piano stylings of the sock-footed sure-footed Kenny Melman, the wall to wall musical accompaniment can be, at times, exhausting, as Pope swiftly condenses Molly’s ten-year journey into a one-hour, one-woman piece of musical theatre.

In a world where old meets new, where the hand-cranked phone exists alongside text messaging, where a sixty’s frock exists alongside a colour headshot, Introducing Molly Pope exists in a time which is really neither here nor there, but both.

Pope’s sparsely furnished stage becomes increasingly cluttered with the contents of Molly’s suitcase and the disarray of Molly’s career, as the simple props and costume change punctuate the complex tale.  It is, like I said, at times exhausting, as Pope is near unrelenting in her story and her performance, yet forcing your brain to power through these moments means the payoff of powerful vocals, beautiful stage-presence, and captivating tale is more than worth it.

From rags to riches, to slightly more classy rags, and hopefully back up to riches, it was lovely to be introduced to you, Molly Pope.

The Adelaide Cabaret Festival Presents Introducing Molly Pope by Molly Pope and Robby Sandler.  Directed by Jesse Geiger, Musical Direction and piano by Kenny Mellman.  Starting Molly Pope.  Adelaide season closed.  For all my NYC readers, the show plays Ars Nova July 18-20.

For all my Cabaret Festival Reviews, go here.

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.

Those Darn Youth: Perspectives on Programming and Venues in Adelaide

“To share an audience we need to grow it, but perhaps it’s our fault because we’re focusing too much on the target audience, and maybe by focusing on that target audience we’re neglecting everyone else, and it’s maybe our fault that other people don’t come to theatre.”

Sitting in the audience at Thursday’s In Conversation With: Building arts audiences collaboratively not competitively, (follow through for recording of the event) at the Adelaide Festival Centre and feeling increasingly disillusioned by the four panelists – Wicked producer John Frost, Kate Gould from the Adelaide Festival of Arts, Pamela Foulkes from the State Theatre Company, and Ian Scobie from Arts Projects Australia – this comment came out of the audience.  I feel it was perhaps the most astute observation of the whole debate: if you feel you don’t have the audience, maybe we need to look at where that audience is coming from.

But what was the answer from the stage?  A (shockingly) resounding “No.”

Followed by a “We’ve spent money on that.”

Well, I think that is exactly the point.

I say I sat there feeling increasingly disillusioned, because it has never been more obvious to me that when these organisations say their core audience is “well-educated, professional women, over the age of 45” (you would really expect the core audience to be over 45, by virtue of the fact it’s just a much larger bracket than Under 30, and 30-45, no?), that not only are these companies quite happy with that being their core audience, they have absolutely no want to broaden their horizons outside of this.  If other people want to come to these shows, fantastic, but they’re certainly not going to – gasp – look at a different programming model to look at what else, and thus who else, they can look to the table.

“We’ve spent money on that.”

They’ve done their Market Research, they’ve increased their marketing budgets, and the “great unwashed” (an actual reference from Frost) still don’t want to come.

I’m not going to say anything here more perceptive than Ianto Ware over on the Renew Adelaide blog: It’s The Content, Stupid. (The whole post is actually brilliant – make sure you read it if you haven’t already.)

 I made a comment on twitter that the reason so many young people are seeing Wicked is because it’s not about middle-aged men.  I don’t for a moment believe that Wicked’s entire success is due to it being a story about young women, friendship, finding and being honest to yourself, but I do believe that these are major contributing factors to its global popularity amongst teenage girls, and teenage girls are a major contributing factor to its status as a global phenomenon.

In short: I guarantee you more teenage girls are seeing Wicked then are seeing Jersey Boys, and the fact that this is even a statement I am writing down is a tad ridiculous.

Beyond the multi-million dollar megaplex musical, it comes down to the same core issue: different people want to see different work.  That’s fine.  That’s great!  But no amount of marketing is going to replace that gap if the content is always created for the “well-educated, professional women, over the age of 45”, and not, say, The Youth with “no concentration span”, who “don’t read anymore”, who “don’t actually listen to the spoken word.”  In short, they’re not interested, so why bother?

Why bother?  Because we are interested.  We’re interested in seeing good work done well, but we are also very interested in the topic the panel was supposed to be about – collaboration – rather than what it came to be about – competition.  Despite our lack of attention span, we’ve managed to do things like get university degrees, work full time, work on fifty projects on the outside, and see and actively participate to art and art culture in this city.  And from this, we’re interested in art that is about us, or excites us, or which makes us think and feel and want to collaborate more.

Organisations like the Adelaide Fringe and Format prove that there are audiences from a large cross-section of the community for a large variety of work.  It’s not so much about creating new audiences, but creating work for existing audiences.

Then, when the conversation inevitably moves to the lack of venues, or more specifically, the lack of venues with cushioned seating, nice toilets, and air-conditioning, this is when I start to get truly worried.  Because I worry that the argument that people won’t see art if the seats aren’t comfortable leads to the argument that people won’t see art if the art isn’t comfortable.

And where are we left then?

A conversation about lack of venues certainly should happen – and is actively happening within the state’s independent theatre sector.  But, just for now, rather than constricting our thinking not only by age and education of the audience, but also by the proscenium of the stage, shouldn’t we think of work that can be created and presented in the spaces we do have?

Even if they don’t have air conditioning.

Talking about collaboration, wouldn’t it be great to see Renew Adelaide collaborate with the Festival of Arts to bring out large scale, site specific works which have been developed to work in abandoned buildings?  Because we have many of those.

(In particular, British theatre company Punchdrunk have been getting outstanding notices for their installation theatre work Sleep No More.  Whoever arranges it so I can see their work gets rave reviews for a year.)

Just as I think organisations could be creating and presenting work which are relevant to more people in this city; couldn’t we be creating and presenting work which is relevant to the particulars of the city itself?  Rather than only looking at what we don’t have, why don’t we look at what we do?

I don’t want to only see work about young women any more than I only want to see work about middle-aged men.   I do enjoy theatre that has the benefits of a cushioned seat and air-conditioning.  But to have a panel presented where anything that fell outside of their norm was completely shut down was bizarre and frustrating.

I want to see and hear ideas across a spectrum: particularly if you are talking about topics of collaboration and competition.   I’m disappointed there wasn’t more diversity on the panel.  I wish the AFC had the narcissism to put someone from that organisation on the panel: because I think they are a large organisation actually programming across a broad spectrum of work and audiences.  They’ve even programmed a site-specific work to Adelaide’s streets this year!  In winter!

Collaboration rather than competition is the primary ethic among most artists and arts organisations.  As Tricia Walton from Carclew said from the audience, for many people it isn’t just done for  financial reasons, but philosophical ones, too.  Why weren’t the people who are actively doing this invited to be on the panel?

“To share an audience, we need to grow it”: now, can we get on that, and stop our bickering?