Friday, 6 June 2014

Musica Viva launches 2014 Virtuosi Campaign

Musica Viva is delighted to announce the launch of its 2014 Virtuosi Campaign – the company’s biggest annual fundraising appeal which runs until 30 June.

Speaking about the annual drive, Musica Viva’s Director of Development, Hywel Sims says, “The Virtuosi Campaign is a vital part of Musica Viva’s philanthropic activities.”

He continues, “We rely on individual and institutional support to cover half the costs of running Musica Viva’s educational and artistic programs and our annual appeal is the best way for us to reach our supporters across the country.”

Musica Viva presents more concerts to more school students than any other company. It also takes music programs beyond the cities to rural and regional schools that might otherwise miss out.

This year, Musica Viva is bringing live performances to over 250,000 school students across the country, giving even more children the opportunity to engage with Musica Viva’s best musical ensembles and work with professional composers and musicians.

“In order to keep our education programs as accessible as possible, Musica Viva only charges schools a fraction of the actual cost,” says Mr Sims. “We rely on the generosity of our donors to help underwrite the actual cost of providing these ground-breaking programs to those most in need.”

Contributions to the 2014 Virtuosi Appeal will assist as follows:

$250 – helps a group of children from a disadvantaged school to experience the thrill of a live music performance at a Musica Viva In Schools concert

$1,000 – allows students to work with a professional composer or musician, providing creative opportunities unlike any other

$5,000 – subsidises the travel costs of an ensemble to provide an inspirational live music experience to children and communities in remote areas.

Musica Viva has been bringing the best Australian musicians and composers directly to classrooms for over 30 years, reaching over 6 million students. Musica Viva’s knowledge, experience and national reach means the company is in the best position to deliver a quality music education to thousands of Australian students.

“Musica Viva believes that all children deserve a quality music education, but still only one in four Australian students currently have access to specialist music teachers,” says Mr Sims. “When children have access to Musica Viva’s quality music education, the benefits start to multiply – the newfound musical skills that students gain flow into other areas of their lives, building confidence, self-esteem and their capacity to learn.”

To donate to Musica Viva’s 2014 Virtuosi Appeal, go to
Support from the community will help make quality music education a part of the lives of all Australian children.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

The Detective’s Handbook - Review

Review originally posted at
Venue: University of Sydney Studio B (Camperdown NSW), Apr 30 – May 10, 2014
Book and Lyrics: Ian Ferrington
Score: Olga Solar
Director: Ian Ferrington
Actors: Alessandro Tuniz, Matt Bartlett, Alexander Richmond, Natasha Vickery, Victoria Zerbst, Elliott Miller, Alice Birbara

Theatre review
The Detective’s Handbook is a new musical written by Ian Ferrington, with score provided by Olga Solar. It is a satirical take on film noir, bringing to mind, films like Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982) and Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988). It is persistently self-conscious, but it takes its parody seriously, placing as much focus on storytelling and its musical numbers, as it does on creating laughs.

Ferrington’s vision is ambitious and idiosyncratic. His work might not look original, but it bears a quirkiness that prevents it from feeling derivative. His writing is witty and charming, but his characters, although spirited, are too traditional. Ferrington’s direction is energetic, with an emphasis on rhythms, which keeps things buoyant and lively. There is however, a need for punchlines and plot twists to be cleaned up for clearer delivery. Olga Solar’s delightful music is beautifully woven into the narratives, and effectively provides characters with interest and complexion. There is a noticeable lack of melodies in most of the songs, with the team’s decision to adopt a “rap-infused 1950s showtune jazz” style. It is debatable whether that choice is a wise one, but the two most memorable numbers, “Too Much To Ask” and “Congratulations”, are both conventionally structured, hummable tunes.

Matt Bartlett has the strongest singing voice in the cast, and plays Detective Jimmy Hartman with great conviction, creating a character that stands out as the most believable of the group. The actor brings a warmth to his performance, and quickly establishes a good connection with the audience. Natasha Vickery plays her three characters with panache and levity. She embraces the show’s giddy style of comedy with good humour, and although required to play silly often, we remember her performance to be a polished one. Other players tend to have an oversimplified approach, with characterisations that do not develop far enough to sustain a show that’s considerably more substantial than a skit.

This is a musical with a lot of frivolity, but it also demonstrates impressive flair. Ferrington and Solar’s material contains great potential, with generous room for comedians to provide dynamic and creative interpretations. This production might be a little under-cooked with too many one trick ponies, but there is no doubt that if explored with greater depth, its future incarnation could well be The Big Noir Musical Hit.

Too Many Elephants in This House - Review

By Dominique Broomfield, blogger,

I still feel a sense of wonder and excitement when I walk into any theatre. The dark, the quiet, the anticipation, the atmosphere, I don’t think that changes from child to adult.

I would have liked to have stepped into my little boys mind today when he experience the theatre for the first time. Queuing up with the preschool and kindergarten kids at the NIDA theatre for a production of Too Many Elephants in This House, I could visably see him change. He is normally a busy two year old constantly on the move but he was quiet, thoughtful, even patient as he lined up. I could almost see the intrigue working in his brain. What is this place? What is going to happen?

We took our seats and he lost his sense of wonder and contemplation a bit and slipped back into two year old mode when he found that the seats flipped up and down. But he sat for almost the entire 55 minute performance – only about 5-10 minutes to the end did he get up and start skulking around the empty seats.

The play is an adaptation of the book by Ursula Dubosarsky and illustrated by Andrew Joyner. It says suitable from 2+ but is really aimed at kids Years K – 6. Specifically designed to engage young people with humour and mystery, this is the first time the book has come alive on stage.

The story is about a 7 year old boy named Eric who’s collection of beloved elephants is getting on his mums nerves because they take up a lot of space. There are just too many elephants – in the living room, in the kitchen, in the bathroom, even in his bedroom! She proclaims he has to make it an elephant free house. So the journey of self discovery and magic begins as Eric learns to combat his fear of the dark; find his sense of belonging and comes up with a clever solution to a very BIG problem…

I expect the theme of the play encouraging creative problem solving is a bit lost on the today’s audience but I imagine the one o’clock showing has some older children. The The children today are happy just watching and giggling. There are lots of opportunities to make preschool and kindergarten children laugh: oversized elephant “listening ears”, mum tripping over the vacuum cleaner which has been dressed as a elephant and an elephant hiding in a fridge brings about a pantomimesque “he’s behing you” chorus from the giggling crowd of youngsters!

The sets are simple but effective helping to playfully explore the concepts of size, space and perspective. The lighting works to capture that sense of theatre without it being too dark and the costumes of grey overalls and woolly jumpers as trunks and stick on ears make some great playschool elephants.

The actors, graduates of NIDA are a bit am-dram for my liking but putting myself in the mind of a child, they do a good job with a heckling audience. The character of Eric and the large elephant are particularly engaging and have a good dynamic, playing for giggles. The actors and Kellie Mackereth who adapted the book for the stage stay on for a brief Q and A which is a delight to listen too. The kids ask a range of cute questions, all answered well and with good humour.

I don’t know the book but by pure coincidence when I picked up my four year old from preschool they had read it that day as it’s recently honoured by the Children’s Book Council of Australia in the Early Childhood category.

I think it’s a shame it’s only on for a short period of time. So, if you read this and get a chance to go before Saturday, it’s a nice way to spend an hour in the luxury of a theatre while your kids are engaged and giggling.

Further information

Based on the book by Ursula Dubosarsky and illustrated by Andrew Joyner
Published by Penguin Books
Presented by the National Institute of Dramatic Art
Adapted for the stage by Kellie Mackereth

Trainspotting - Review

Review originally posted at
Venue: King Street Theatre (Newtown NSW), May 8 – 24, 2014
Playwright: Harry Gibson (based on the novel by Irvine Welsh)
Director: Luke Berman
Actors: Damien Carr, Taylor Beadle-Williams, Brendon Taylor, Leigh Scully

Theatre review
Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting is one of the defining cultural landmarks of the 1990s. From novel, to play, and eventually to the blockbusting hit film, its immense popularity and pervasiveness in landscapes the world over is testament not only to the quality of work by artists involved, but also to the way its story has resonated and subsequently appropriated as a sign of the times.

Black Box Theatre’s staging of the 1994 Harry Gibson adaptation seems, on the surface, to be an exercise in nostalgia. It is entirely too predictable to have a group of Gen-Y enthusiasts take on a cult classic that pushes the boundaries of decency, but what they have created is a work that is surprisingly relevant, and very well crafted indeed. Luke Berman’s direction is exciting, colourful and crisp. Scenes move along quickly but clearly, as though injected with adrenaline. The action is heightened and dynamic, but sentiments are always elucidated. Berman has a sensitivity that ensures the text’s many controversial elements are handled circumspectly, with just the right amount of restraint that keeps bad taste from turning unacceptable.

Berman’s cast is truly impressive. They are a fearless and captivating foursome, whose love for the art of performance is absolutely evident. By taking on multiple roles, they all receive significant stage time and are able to showcase creative versatility, but we are not always able to identify the characters being played, although it must be said, that this does not seem to alter the enjoyment of the work. Damien Carr plays Mark, the protagonist and narrator of the piece. The duality of simultaneously narrating the story and performing the scenes being described is fascinating, and Carr does a stellar job of it. He is on stage for virtually the entire duration, and is able to provide a consistently focused energy that keeps us engaged and involved. Taylor Beadle-Williams is magnificent in her roles. There is often a baroque exuberance in her work that articulates perfectly the aesthetic of Welsh’s hallucinatory world, but at the core of her performance is a fixation on truth, which gives all her characters a beautiful empathy that is irresistible.

Drug abuse and the “junkie” subculture is sadly, not a relic of the past. Trainspotting‘s articulation of that underworld satisfies our curiosity, telling us about the fringe dwellers who reside on our peripheries. We are reminded that the world is a shared one, and our beliefs about life are often fundamentally the same. Even when our values diverge, and our judgemental minds divide us, it is our common humanity that allows us to look into the experience of others, drawing parallels where they exist, and discovering through these diversities what is enduring, and what actually matters.

Arthur’s Place - Review

Review originally posted at
Venue: TAP Gallery (Darlinghurst NSW), May 7 – 11, 2014
Playwright: Ben Eadie
Director: Ruth Fingret
Actors: Dominic Witkop, Aaron Nilan, Matt Jacobsen, Steve Vincent, Timothy Parsons, Jamie Merendino, Cait Burley

Theatre review
The young Australian man has in recent times become a subject of interest in media and social discourse. Characterised as violent, drunk and disorderly, he is also often considered to be of white and middle class origins. Ben Eadie’s script is concerned with this particular group of “lost souls”. Six characters are created to represent an aimless but troubled segment of our society, each with a distinctive personality type but all are purposeless except for a preoccupation with drugs and alcohol.

Eadie’s efforts at painting a picture of detachment is effective. He gives a clear impression of characters unable to engage meaningfully, but although we are able to relate them with some familiarity to our lived communities, they struggle to evoke empathy or arouse much interest. The fact that they are privileged enough to live a lifestyle that includes no work but a lot of debauchery, prevents us from feeling for them or for dramatic tension to build sufficiently. Not very much seems to be at risk. Some attention is paid on sexual abuse in a couple of the boys’ histories, but those scenes feel like afterthoughts, even if they are clearly well-intentioned.

The pace of the show is exceedingly languid. Much of the acting seems to be based in “real time”, which often comes across too slow for the audience. Dominic Witkop’s performance is slightly too internalised, but his focus and commitment is strong. His character Lance is by far the most convincing one, and the care and measuredness at which he attacks his part is laudable, but introducing a greater sense of vigour would allow him to connect better. Arthur is played by Aaron Nilan who lacks the enigmatic quality required by the script, but his less restrained performance in the second act adds much needed energy and animation to the stage.

Unlike its characters, Arthur’s Place has a purpose. It discusses our social problems, which is one of the most important functions of theatre, but while it tries to push the envelope with its exaggerated use of profanity, more conviction is needed to advance its central message. We do not expect plays to give us solutions, but when art is able to make us care about our worlds, it becomes indispensable.

Event For A Stage - Review

Review originally posted at
Venue: Carriageworks (Eveleigh NSW), May 1 – 4, 2014
Artist: Tacita Dean
Actor: Stephen Dillane

Theatre review
English visual artist Tacita Dean’s Event For A Stage is her first work in the “live theatre” medium. Unsurprisingly, the piece is not concerned with theatrical conventions, and it certainly places no interest on the fabrication of a narrative. The rectangular stage is surrounded by audiences on all 4 sides, and Dean, the artist sits front row with us, in a darkened corner. A big chalk circle is drawn on the stage, with two people operating a video camera within the circle, and another two people outside of it. A microphone is suspended from the fly bars into the middle of the circle. For the duration of the 45-minute work, the actor Stephen Dillane walks around the stage, usually following the chalk line, but uses regular disruptions to the circular stroll to create a sense of action or to emphasise certain points in his monologue.

Over the course of the performance, Dillane walks up to Dean and obtains, with visible resentment, sheets of theatre and performance theory, which he reads aloud, effectively using them as scripts. The writing is insightful and fascinating, and Dillane’s interpretation of them is thoroughly compelling. In addition to Dean’s sheets of paper, Dillane also gives us coherent and interesting accounts of conversations he has had with the artist, or about events and people from his personal life. Further, he reads sections from a slim novel he keeps in his pocket, and performs extracts from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The work however, is not about stories. Its main crux deals with the nature of theatre and performance, the sociology of spaces in a theatrical venue, and the relational dynamics between artists and audiences.

There are layers upon layers of ideas that are touched upon in this deconstruction of performative spaces. Things get complex, but Dillane’s supreme ability to connect, keeps us from confusion or perplexity. One of the main themes discussed relates to contrivances that arise from the convergence of creators and spectators. The presence of video cameras helps illustrate the point, while simultaneously adding to the multiplicity of the artist’s concepts in its obvious extension into other televised or filmic media. Dillane also talks about the danger that sits below the surface of theatrical artifices, and his close proximity from us is a constant threat to our presumption of security, with the cameras amplifying the stakes at hand.

Event For A Stage approaches theatre with concepts and conventions from the visual art world, in a collision of forms that is fresh and exciting. It seeks not to emulate familiar precedents, but like all great works of theatre, it enthrals, intrigues and informs, even if its subject matter (its self) is a little haughty.

His Mother’s Voice - Review

Review originally posted at
Venue: ATYP (Walsh Bay NSW), Apr 30 – May 17, 2014
Director: Suzanne Millar
Playwright: Justin Fleming
Actors: Alice Keohavong, Angela Tran, Arisa Yura, Dannielle Jackson, Harry Tseng, John Gomez Goodway, Jonathan Lourdes, Michael Gooley, Monica Sayers, Renee Lim, Isaiah Powell
Image by Tessa Tran, Breathing Light Photography

Theatre review
China’s Cultural Revolution ended officially in October 1976, but its after-effects are felt everyday the world over. Today, China’s influence on the global economy develops rapidly, and the country is now widely known to be Australia’s largest trading partner. According to the 2011 census, 4 percent of Australians identify themselves as having Chinese ancestry, and that number continues to grow. Justin Fleming’s His Mother’s Voice is a story about the Cultural Revolution, and the defection of a Chinese pianist to Australia.

Fleming’s script is colourfully structured. With the story of Qian Liu as a young boy, it sets out to provide a dramatic background of the Cultural Revolution that would assist audiences who might be unfamiliar with that slice of history. When Qian matures and becomes a successful pianist, he takes an opportunity to defect to Australia, and the story takes a turn that allows a more direct connection with its intended audience. Fleming’s focus however resides with the relationship between Qian and his mother Yang Jia, who struggles against all odds to teach her son the piano, in the firm belief that music is integral to their family identity and survival. The universal ties between parent and child is rightly central to the story, as it is a theme that we all have an affinity for.

Director Suzanne Millar’s sensitive creation of scenes from the revolution are dynamic and fascinating. Her talent in the use of space and sounds crafts a show that is relentlessly engrossing (lighting designer Christopher Page and sound designer James Colla execute Millar’s vision with great elegance). She has a deep understanding of the audience’s senses, and we are kept entirely under her spell. The stage is kept very busy, but our minds are always carefully guided through all the action with clarity. The show she has built is an entertaining one, but casting issues prevent it from being the moving experience it wishes to be.

Henry Tseng is a perfect visual fit for the lead role, but a lack of authenticity in his characterisation disrupts the crucial relationships Qian has with his mother, and his wife. Without a believable emotional centre, the story is one we hear, but do not feel. Qian’s Australian wife is Emma Fielden, played by Dannielle Jackson. Jackson has a delightful effervescence that brings a necessary lightness to the often heavy going narrative, but can be slightly distracting when scenes require more gravity.

Renee Lim as Qian’s mother Yang Jia, is star of the show. Her performance is powerful yet varied, and her strong presence is consistently engaging. The level of commitment she exhibits is impressive, and it is noteworthy that she exercises restraint effectively on many occasions, although her emotional scenes are unmistakably remarkable. John Gomez Goodway and Michael Gooley both play their paternal roles with excellence, and Alice Keohavong and Monical Sayers are memorable in a humorous scene as bumbling officials negotiating Qian’s farcical reconciliation.

His Mother’s Voice is earnest, and beautiful. It does not always resonate, but it is fiercely captivating. The exoticism involved in dealing with foreign cultures is often tricky, but this production handles matters with respect and dignity. Fleming and Millar are to be commended for looking abroad in their search for artistic inspiration, and for a show that tells us who we are by finding the similarities that lie in the seemingly drastic differences between us and them.