No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Tag: Jonathon Oxlade

AdlFringe Review: Book of Loco

Tandanya’s theatre has been transformed. Out has gone the seating bank and in is – quite literally – thousands of cardboard boxes. Big ones, little ones, square ones, rectangular ones, all stacked on top of each other forming four walls reaching sky-high.

We take our seats, talking about the Fringe’s events so far, our days, our plans for the evenings. Then, we notice someone walking around the seats. Sitting down in empty chairs, looking around to take stock of who is in the audience, is a man in a black suit – hardly your typical Fringe attire.

This man is Alirio Zavarce, here to introduce us to his thoughts and his life, which he has titled The Book of Loco. Everyone is a little bit crazy, he hypothesizes. What we consider to be normal and what we consider to be loco is, maybe, just a result of the reality presented to us.

But how best to tell us this story?

The lights go down, and Zavarce stands in a spot light. He opens the story in an airport. He has just flown back to Australia with a re-enforced prop suitcase from a performance. The customs officials are suspicious of the suitcase and —-

Wait. Lights snap on. Maybe that’s not the best way to tell it. Does he need to give us some back-story? Do we know who he is? Do we care yet? What if he hasn’t explained the constructs of the world and our relationships with sanity? Perhaps he just needs to comb his hair, and then he can jump back into the show ….

Part biographical journey, Book of Loco traces its own creation, compounding factors of both the world and Zavarce’s world changing over the past decade or so – the World Trade Centre attacks, break-ups, deaths, moving to Adelaide – in which Zavarce found himself questioning, losing, and refinding versions of sanity. Going a bit loco. Something he hypothesizes we all go through.

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Review: Pinocchio

With guest reviewer Aria Noori, aged 12.

Jane’s review:

Pinocchio – the little wooden boy whose nose grows when he lies – isn’t quite so little in this production from Windmill and the State Theatre Company. Nathan O’Keefe in the title role towers over many of his cast mates, but carries it with such childlike joy – and young manipulative ignorance – that the almost awkward height of the boy is endearing.

In 2009, Windmill’s last big-scale family musical production was The Wizard of Oz, building off the established stage show (in turn based on the film) with new musical arrangements and  a bizarrely twisted lens. While the production toured to Sydney, a much larger scale tour was planned before the rights were stripped by virtue of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s production opening on the West End.

Partially to avoid a similar loss, this Pinocchio doesn’t derive from Disney’s 1940 animation, but is a new version built off Carlo Collodi’s original stories. Created by director Rosemary Myers with writer Julianne O’Brien, Windmill have shifted the emphasis of the work off the nature of lies which we all associate the story with, onto lessons of greed and love.

Myers and her creative team mix both flashy stage technology with obvious and delightful theatre trickery. Geoff Cobham puts on just as much as a light show we’ve come to expect, with his trademark balance of creating lighting which is at once obvious but manages to fit perfectly within the action and the rest of the design. Jonathon Oxlade’s stage includes several revolves, where much of the scenic design and transitions are created by projected imagery (video designer Chris Moore) onto an otherwise blank wooden structure representing a tree stump.

It’s the moments when the play fully invests in the unadorned theatrics of the affair and the environment, though, where it truly comes alive.  As Geppetto (Alirio Zavarce) “carves” Pinocchio out of a tree trunk, we simply have O’Keefe hidden in a wooded tube, which drops down in layers before the boy is reveled.  As Geppetto searches for Pinocchio out at sea, we see Zavarce’s legs sticking out from under the row-boat, as pieces of blue material spin around the base of a revolve. Cricket (a puppet operated and characterised by Sam Routledge) frequently breaks the fourth wall and makes jokes often more about the audience and the act of watching a play than the play itself. These moments are also embellished as the band, rabbit ears sticking up over the pit, are joined by cast members, costumes and all, to build up the sound.

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Festival Review: School Dance; and investing in joyous artistic visions.

Sydney-based actor and playwright Matthew Whittet has enjoyed a perhaps disproportionate amount of his success as a writer Adelaide.  Twelve, his first play was workshoped at the National Playwrights Conference in Perth in 2006, and his first produced play was Silver, a monologue which Whittet also performed, at Downstairs Belvoir in 2009.  His latest work, Old Man, will again be playing in Belvoir’s downstairs theatre this June, but between these Sydney outings, three of his works have had main-stage productions in Adelaide.

Two of these plays were presented in very quick succession in 2010, with Windmill Theatre producing Fugitive in August, and Brink Productions producing Harbinger in September.  While the shows weren’t without their issues (particularly in the final scenes of Harbinger), Whittet did in many ways cement himself to Adelaide’s audience as someone with a unique mind, twisting slightly off centre into bizarre universes filled with awkwardness, and with love.

School Dance, again produced by Windmill, premiered in the Adelaide Festival this year.  While this work still sits very early in Whittet’s career as a playwright, it was embodied with a wonderful of air of trust on behalf of Rose Myers and Teena Munn, the Artistic Director and General Manager / Executive Producer of Windmill, respectively.

Like Fugitive, School Dance has been directed by Myers, and above all else feels like Whittet was given the absolute freedom to make a work to his vision. The resulting play is one that, as soon as you start to detail it on the page, sounds so peculiar, so unconventional, and so illogical that it wouldn’t work; and yet through this trust is borne something that works absolutely.

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Review: boy girl wall

Bursting on to the scene, far above my right shoulder, appears our narrator, Lucus Sibbard.  He is here to guide us through this story: in one apartment, lives a boy; next door, a girl;  between them, a wall.  Thom and Aletha battle on their lives alone: he, wishing he was an astronomer, wasting his days in an IT job where he doesn’t really know what his job is at all; she, a children’s book author working on that difficult second book, for which not a word has been written.  The wall, living between them for years, decides what needs to happen is Thom and Aletha must meet.  This isn’t a love story, we’re told.  But it is a story about love.

Lucas bounds up and down and across the stage, always talking to and referring to the audience (“Who goes to the theatre on a Thursday?” he asks his Thursday theatre audience): our presence as much an integral part of the production as the action itself.  Perhaps it’s even more so: we sneak a look into the lives of this pair in what seems to be the middle of their story. Lucus brings us in on a Tuesday (“Nothing happens on a Tuesday.”), leaves us with a kiss, and in 75 minutes the story is all over.  And joining us and Aletha and Thom on this crazy journey is the inanimate objects which play a part: the wall, the doors, the computer Dave, the powerbox, the days of the week.  Are days of the week inanimate objects?  They’re surely not animate objects, but then again, they’re hardly objects.  Inanimate inobjects?

Sarah Winter sits above the action, orchestrating a series of odd instruments composed by Neridah Waters, soundscaping with a delicate touch, a hint of whimsy, and an occasional burst of pop song.  The set (Jonathon Oxlade) is a chalkboard stage floor thrusting into the audience, chalkboard upon chalkboard building up in a wall above the stage.  Playing across the two dimensional stage and wall, lighting (Keith Clark) illuminates and hides created spaces.  From all this and a stick of chalk, Lucus builds his set.

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Review: Fugitive

TThe king has abandoned his kingdom, the knights have taken over, and tyranny rules the land.  Robin returns after a two-year absence, and quickly falls back in with his friends: Marion and Wil.  When Robin fails to save the life of a young boy, he and his band, joined by Little John, move into the woods and steal from the rich to give to the poor.  This is Robin Hood like you know it, and yet nothing like it.

Eamon Farren as Robin Hood.

With carpeted lounge, two walls with forest photographic wallpaper, some doors, chairs, and logs, in Fugitive Jonathon Oxlade has created a delightfully simple set: the changes in locations (along with many props) exist only in our imaginations, yet we are never left with any doubt as to where they are.   Exceptional lighting by Richard Vabre, and composition and sound design by Luke Smiles help to compete the puzzle, and are both as integral to the narrative as the dialogue.  It is a true testament to this production and team that these three arms of design never seem like distinct entities: they are constantly working in such an incredible balance it seems as though they were created by the one mind.  Coming together with these elements, the story and production doesn’t need to spell things out, because through this creativity a world much bigger than could ever be realised on stage is created.

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Review: Grug

L-R Grug, Nathan O'Keefe, Lucas Stibbard, Cara and Jude Henshall. Windmill Theatre. Photo Tony Lewis

This review originally appeared on Australian Stage Online

Ted Prior’s children’s series, Grug, has been loved by tens of thousands of Australian children since originally published over the period from the late 70s to the early 90s. Republished in 2009, and now with the help of Windmill Performing Arts and QPAC’s Out Of The Box Festival, a new generation of children are being exposed to Grug and his adventures.

Nathan O’Keefe, Lucas Stibbard and Jude Henshall operate the puppets in the show – designed by Jonathan Oxlade and remaining faithful to Prior’s illustrations – and all give delightful performances. The show, directed by Sam Haren, draws from several of Prior’s books, starting with telling of the creation of Grug (he began life as the top of a Burrawong tree which fell to the ground, and grew stripes, legs and a face) and following Grug as he has fun and solves simple problems.

Stories included Grug and His Garden, where Grug discovers a snail eating his garden, so he plants more so they can both be happy; Grug Goes Fishing, including a very funny sequence in which a goggled O’Keefe operates fish, seaweed and a crab; Grug Plays Soccer, where Grug and friend Cara the carpet snake (operated by the wonderfully expressive Henshall) play a game; and Grug Learns to Dance, in which the children in the audience all learn “The Grug”.

A simple narrative structure is used to introduce each story: O’Keefe is delivering parcels to Grug when he discovers they are all empty. So one-by-one he takes some items from a bag which seemingly belongs to an audience member, places them in the parcel, and they magically transform into the catalyst for the story: water from a drink bottle and a small toy fish become a fishing-rod, an ordinary apple grows into a giant apple. Similarly, the individual stories all end with the same structure, as Grug goes to sleep after his adventure.

This simple device meant the stories were all clearly defined, and more than that, it allowed constant surprise and anticipation as to what would come next.

The short show started late as late arrivals drifted in, causing some of the children who had been waiting to become restless, but once the show started they were enamored. Three-year-old Ruby couldn’t sit still through the show – not for being bored, but because she was straining to get closer to see what Grug and her personal favourite, the snake Cara, were doing. At the end of the show, the children were all invited to come a bit closer and say goodbye to Grug and his friends.

Windmill has again created a show in which children can wonderfully discover the magic and the fun and play in theatre. A show for Windmill’s youngest audience, one- to five-year-olds, the adults in the audience were having almost as much fun as the kids – both through watching the play, and watching the children become engrossed in the story and the characters. And, due to demand, a special performance for “original” fans of the books has been added to the Adelaide season: I certainly enjoyed rediscovering a childhood friend on stage.

Grug plays at the Forge Theatre, Maryatville High School, until April 24th, followed by a season in Studio 1, QPAC, from June 8-13th as a part of the Out Of The Box Festival.