Category Archives: Theatre

The Last Confession

His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth

reviewed by Neville Cohn

To experience Roger Crane‘s play The Last Confession is to be drawn into a unique and

fascinating world which is as mysterious as it is intriguing, an all­ male environment in which

power play is the order of the day. Into this curious world in which subtle backstabbing is a highly

developed art, comes a newly elected pope who is strikingly different to all those who went before

him.

He takes the name John Paul and is quickly dubbed The Smiling Pope. It is undeniable that at one

level, he seems a perpetually beaming innocent. But behind this facade is a shrewd judge of men

determined to restructure the church for the better.

Unsurprisingly, this alarms the Curia, that secretive ring of clerics that surrounds the pontiff

perpetually. These men fear that their world of influence is imperilled. Then, little more than a

David Suchet

David Suchet Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann

month in the job, Pope John Paul 1 is found dead in bed. Ever since, there have been swirling rumours about how the Pontiff met his end.

David Suchet, best known for his TV role as Poirot, Agatha Christie’s famous little Belgian detective, is a central figure. And his quiet, unobtrusive presence dominates the production.

Sporting a tiny, pale mauve skull cap in Act 1, he could as easily pass as a rabbinical figure as a Catholic heavy weight. His every word was made meaningful.

In this production there are no weak links. It’s an ensemble piece, each character clearly defined, as scarlet ­robed cardinals as well as some lesser clerics and the Pope endeavour – for a variety of reasons ­ to deal with the unsavoury goings­ on at the Vatican’s scandal­ ridden bank.

Richard O’Callaghan in the pivotal role of the luckless Pope John Paul I does wonders in giving point and meaning to the role. Donald Douglas is completely convincing as Pope Paul VI as is Philip Craig as the Confessor. And Stuart Milligan does wonders as the ethically challenged

Bishop Marcinkus.

A remarkable and rapidly adjustable all­ purpose set serves variously as a number of locations

within the Vatican with a few props – a table, a few chairs and the like.

Laurels to the backstage staff who skilfully, silently and rapidly moved set and props about in

semi­ darkness.

Dust (Suzie Miller)

 

Black Swan State Theatre Company

Heath Ledger Theatre

reviewed by Neville Cohn

A huge, orange ­red dust cloud settles over the city. No one can recall anything quite like it. It

transforms Perth, calling to mind Beijing during one of its worst smog periods – but an orange-
hued version of it. And it is in the midst of this eerie fug that Suzie Miller’s fascinating play

unfolds.

A young woman (Charlotte Devenport) prepares for her wedding later that day. She is distraught

as the fine dust settles on her dress and on the white Rolls Royce she’s hired to take her to the

ceremony. She is shockingly foul mouthed as she vents her spleen at a hapless wedding planner

Benj D’Addario who has never before had to contend with such an extraordinary occurrence.

Then the marquee where the reception is to take place collapses in the wind. There’s trouble at the

airport, too, with flights cancelled across the board which means many guests from interstate won’t

make it to the celebrations.

 

Caroline McKenzie

Gary Marsh Photography

Elsewhere in the city, a step­father (Kelton Pell in top form) of a troubled young woman is having

a particularly tough day with the added maddening annoyance of a meddling motor­mouth

neighbour in a theatrical tour de force by Caroline McKenzie. She also plays mother ­of ­the ­bride.

Nicholas Starte as the Egyptian taxi driver and his passenger Alison van Reeken as Elektra, a

‘dancer’, give performances of sterling worth. D’Addario, in a dual role, is first rate as the FIFO

worker. And Ben Mortley is convincing both as Alistair, a young man on the prowl, and a dejected

homeless man.

Fiona Bruce‘s minimalist, multi­purpose set is ingenious with actors themselves moving props

across the stage, suggesting a myriad of locations: the interior of a taxi, the front porch of a house,

a bedroom. It is a model of stage discipline. Trent Suidgeest’s lighting design very effectively

enhances atmosphere. And Emily McLean’s directorial touch helps bring the production to

fascinating life. Bravo!

 

Charlotte-Devenport-Nicholas-Starte.-Dust

Image by Gary Marsh Photography

If this play doesn’t find a place in the international theatre repertoire, I’d like to know why.

The House on the Lake (Aidan Fennessy)

 

 

Black Swan Theatre Company

State Theatre, Perth

reviewed by Neville Cohn

It is no small achievement for two actors on­stage for ninety unbroken minutes to hold the

undivided attention of an audience. Unexpectedly, the professionalism of actors Kenneth Ransom

and Martha Rovik was particularly tested midway through the performance when a member of the

audience took ill and needed to be assisted out of the theatre by ushers. Auditorium lights came up

very briefly during this hiatus.

An event such as this could so easily have lessened or even nullified the dramatic intensity so

painstakingly built up until that point. But the duo took this event completely in their stride,

maintaining their stage attitudes as if momentarily frozen until the ill theatregoer was assisted out

of the venue. Then, the play continued as if nothing had happened to intrude on its unfolding.

To give away what transpires in the closing moments of the play would be unfair to playgoers who

are yet to experience this fascinating and absorbing theatre piece. Suffice it to say that, in a secure

facility somewhere in the USA, we watch and listen to a series of conversations between lawyer

David Rail and forensic psychologist Dr Alice Lowe. Rail has sustained injuries in an accident ­

and it is the circumstances leading up to and surrounding that event which are the essence of the

play.Kenneth Ransom, Marthe Rovik. The House on The Lake. Photo by Gary Marsh Photography

Occasionally, there was a need for Ransom to project his voice rather more emphatically. This

notwithstanding, ninety minutes flew by.

Trent Suidgeests’s lighting design was discreetly effective – and India Mehta’s set design was

cleverly claustrophobic.

BALLET – Onegin

 

 

W.A.Ballet Company

His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth

reviewed by Alice Woode

 

Mood-wise, this production of Onegin near-perfectly captures the autumnal essence of Pushkin’s immortal tale of love and despair.

 

In visual terms, its muted, finely balanced colours in both lighting, costumes and decor evoke bittersweet nuances of a tale of love spurned and lost, disappointment and violent death.

 

Jayne Smeulders is an altogether convincing Tatiana. In the famous letter scene, she could hardly be faulted, beautifully conveying the tragic heroine’s infatuation with Onegin and her devastation when she realises he does not return her affections. Melissa Boniface, too, is entirely persuasive as Tatiana’s sister Olga.

Jayne Smeulders and Jiri Jelinek RES

Jayne Smeulders and Jiri Jelinek
Photo Credit – Jon Green

Lavish bouquets for the manner in which technical skill and expressiveness blend to often moving effect in all the pas de deux in which Smeulders and Boniface are partnered by Jiri Jelinek in the title role and Dane Holland as Lensky;  these were the gems of the production, with finely honed technique and a world of disciplined emotion.

It was only in the duel scene where inspiration seemed to flag; it lacked the intensity and high drama that were needed.

 

One of the many delights of the production is the quality of the corps de ballet. With disciplined fluidity of movement and first rate ensemble, the corps’ dancing is like a silver thread through the production. The charm-laden ball scene in which both young and decrepit give comic point and meaning to the dance is in the best sense of the word diverting. Whether light-hearted or sombre, the corps come up trumps again and again. Carole Hill does wonders as Tatiana’s often hilariously fussy nursemaid.

 

Although the dancing is to the music of Tchaikowsky, one of the greatest of all composers for the ballet, none of it, of course, is purpose-written for the dance. Happily, though, nearly all of it fits seamlessly into the late John Cranko’s superlative choreography. A good many episodes are danced to orchestrations of some of the composer’s short pieces for piano: the haunting Autumn and the quiet rapture of the Barcarolle (both from The Seasons) – and the exquisite Nocturne from opus 19. Again and again, one is able to savour how cleverly Cranko’s choreography blends both movement and music to beguiling effect.

 

Imaginative lighting, too, does much to underscore the autumnal nature of the piece, an impression further enhanced by the use of Elizabeth Dalton’s wing scenery depicting, inter alia, a leafy forest that brings a charming, rather faded, mid-19th-century perspective to the production. Dalton also designed the costumes worn with great flair by the company.

 

At times, one wished for rather more uniform tonal sheen from the string section of the WASO.

Black Swan Company

 

 

Death of a Salesman (Arthur Miller)

Heath Ledger Theatre. Northbridge

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

If ever the definition of a classic applied to a play as a work which remains relevant beyond its own era, it is Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. It shines an unblinking  light on the American dream in collapse. It is Miller’s masterpiece. And Black Swan’s production, in the most profound sense, draws one ineluctably into Miller’s devastating world.

 

What elevates Adam Mitchell‘s production to a special category of excellence is Caroline McKenzie‘s portrayal of Mrs Loman. Here is an American saint, a woman who could so understandably have told her husband she’d had enough of his endless justifications for never ever making a success of his job. But she never does. Instead, she is his rock. McKenzie could hardly have been better cast; in word and gesture, beautifully understated at all times, she is love and unconditional loyalty personified in her refusal to countenance, even for a moment, the failure which is Willy and the stuff-up their children represent. The Lomans are a family of tragic losers, apparently unable – or unwilling – to face the reality of their own selves. Willy Loman is failure-in-chief. He has made a mess of life both as family man and employee.

 

In the days before women became accepted into the workplace, it was millions of other Mrs Lomans who, without fuss or recognition, kept the family unit somehow intact. These were women who, often, were of considerable innate ability, but, because of societal norms and expectations of the era, had virtually no chance of an independent  career. And her millions of sisters who, denied the opportunities to make of themselves something other than mother, cook and nanny, poured their often abundant but frustrated energies into maintaining and protecting the family home as an impregnable domestic bastion.

 

John Stanton does wonders as Loman. Is there a more convincing word-portrait of failure and self-deception than in the lines that Miller gives him? Does he really believe the advice he gives so readily – whether wanted or not – to his sons, Biff  (Josh McConville) and Happy (Ben O’Toole), losers both? Willy’s end by suicide is his final failure.

 

Miller’s skill, indeed genius, in laying bare the tragic tribulations of the Loman family, gives us a theatre piece which deals unblinkingly with themes which are both universal and timeless: loyalty, love, disappointment and failure. This high-calibre Black Swan Theatre production warrants the highest praise.