THE MAGIC HOUR

Synopsis: Once upon a time…. Hidden in the crevices, drawn from the gutters and alleyways of life, comes a startling retelling of classic fairy tales.

Celebrated Australian Playwright Vanessa Bates has written an engaging and exploratory piece of theatre in The Magic Hour. Ursula Yovich begins taking her audience on a journey by breaking the fourth wall as they settled in their seats. In a breath all eyes on Yovich whilst taking in the enchanting set design by Alicia Clements. Joe Lui also must be commended for his soft warm lighting design and whimsical and at times haunting original score, all visual and audible elements cacooned Yovich perfectly through out her performance. Yovich Engaged in chit-chat before she immerses herself into old-fashioned story telling by the camp fire so to speak. In this case a single back yard cooker/bbq.
Bates stories are filled with well-known classic fairy tale characters though not in the familiar skins and circumstances we know so well. Yovich and director Chris Bendall have been given an enormous task in this one woman show to pull together the interestingly woven reality vs fantasy characters. Bendall managed this in a smooth and precise manner using the set to his advantage on every occasion as well as a clever use of puppetry in one tale that was quirky and play school like, highly enjoyable direction.
The Magic Hour indeed is an eventful experience. Vanessa Bates, Chris Bendall and Ursula Yovich have woven their talents together to create a tapestry of visual wonder. The stories are written with humour and cold hard realism. You won’t find airy fairy Disney tales here. Bates adapted fairy tales such as Cinderella, Rapunzel, The Princess and the Frog, Jack and the Beanstalk among others. She has adapted these characters into tangible worlds with an Australian perspective and hardship. Plucking fantasy from the classic stories we have grown up with all our lives and replacing that fantasy with some dark truth.

My question at the end of it all was whether or not we needed to have this adaptation occur to these tales? If you break down most of, if not all Disney classic fairy tales they are already full of tragedy and let’s be honest not very child like concepts at all. Stories full of kidnaping, jealous rages, murder attempts, evil beings, spells, death… Of course the endings are always highly unrealistic and full of sensationalism. Prince on white horse to rescue…lol. Even Disney themselves have attempted to pluck apart their own fantasies to match with a more relevant out come for their characters aka recently Maleficent starring Angelina Jolie. The whole premise of fantasy is in its genre title, it isn’t supposed to be realistic. Its purpose being to take us out of the hardships life throws our way and take us to a place briefly where we can believe or feel hopeful for that happy ending? Sure it’s unrealistic and we certainly shouldn’t be basing our real life expectations on fantasy, but I couldn’t help question this in my thought process at the plays conclusion. In saying that though the concept is undeniably interesting and meaty with endless possibilities in adaptation. God knows Shakespeare has been adapted to death in every which way possible. Perhaps in hind sight fairy tales are of no exception. Perhaps my child within felt slightly jarred by the experience. My question indeed is a personal one to which an individual must make up his or her mind upon seeing the production for themselves. Food for thought.

On the flip side to that note I ultimately appreciated that Bates had written a series of stories about the ‘magic hours’ of living in the reality. The magic of the human spirit and the magic we can produce by being ultimately human, appreciating this and not grasping for fake ideals that indeed our classic fairy tales ooze.
Bates blending of the worlds is interesting and Yovichs performance was beautiful and emotionally gripping, giving her blood, sweat and tears into every tale she conveyed with tremendous conviction.

The Magic Hour is touring nation wide and is currently on at Riverside Theatre Parramatta 26-28th of June.

The Factory by Kila Kokonut Krew

THE FACTORY

Synopsis: Arriving in Aukilani with her father in the 1970’s, a young Samoan woman with big dreams and hopes for a brighter future is immediately set to work in a South Auckland textile factory. But each time the factory bell rings, she feels further away from both her home and her aspirations.

Review: Pacific Island culture is full of soul. Music and dance are a way of life and an integral part of the core of generations of tradition and family. There was no doubt in my mind that this production and its cast would deliver a powerful show, it’s no surprise that The Factory delivered quality to an anticipating audience. Immediately upon the drawing of that theatre curtain the Kila Kokonut Krew set the bar of excellence for any company wishing to create musical theatre and performance. This Krew did not disappoint or waiver, a powerful booming vocal start to an overall spectacular production showcasing some enormous talent from our New Zealand brothers and sisters.

Milly Grant who plays Losa is a rising super star in the making, delivering an honest and witty performance her vocal range and projection is stellar. She certainly is up to par and beyond some of the well-known musical stars I have witnessed in Australia and around the world. Grants vocal abilities reached heights that were mind blowingly mountainous. Her portrayal of a new immigrant to New Zealand shores felt personal and connected. A captivating face and presence, a very talented young woman.
Aleni Tufuga who plays Kavana, Losas father gave a strong performance with great maturity and control. A balanced supporting role performance to his co-stars.
Paul Glover who plays Richard Wilkinson, one of only two white performers among the Pacific Islander cast certainly gave his all. Though not a strong singer his performance method made up for his lack of the latter. I found some of his scenes slightly over sensationalized and vaguely stereotypical. A moment near the end of his performance had the patrons giggling in shock at the sudden outcome. This could possibly be adjusted slightly as its delivery I assume was not meaningfully comical as it was at a conjunction of the script that rolled into serious content. A well produced performance none the less.
Ryan Bennett plays Edward Wilkinson, Bennett has a singing voice and vocal ability that met the huge voices of his Islander cast members. A tremendously talented singer whose voice married beautifully with Grants, their duets were heaven to listen too. His performance naturalistic and complimentary to some of the more flamboyant characters surrounding him. A joyful performer to watch.
Paul Fagamalo who plays Misilei (Misi) the elaborate, funny, charming transsexual was magic to watch. His performance both in song and dance would have given Beyoncé a run for her money. A real stand out performance that was gleefully lapped up by the audience she had them eating out of her hand so to speak. Captivating and a natural performer on every level, a stand out amongst his peers.
Taofia Pelesasa plays Mose the factory’s floor manager with a real humourous approach. A revolutionist style character that was performed with guts and wit.
The rest of the cast ensemble Tavai Faasavalu, Troy Tu’ua, Saipele Maika, Valentino Maliko, Joanna Mika-Toloa, Suivai Autagavaia, Nastassia Wolfgramm, Rosita Gibbons and Lorna Teisi all gave powerful performances showcasing their talents in both dance, performance and vocals. Kila Kokonut Krew performed a Kila show, one that they are clearly proud of and do with joy and pride. Energetic and charismatic from start to finish!

Writer/director Vela Manusaute and his co writer/directors Anapela Polataivao and Stacey Leilu (writer/producer) has done themselves, families and Samoan/Pacific Islander heritage proud. Manusaute has written a book that is original, personal and powerful, a story that is all heart and profoundly human, a glorious combination of ingredients needed to create a moving piece of musical theatre.

The set and lighting by Sean Coyle was clean and none intrusive, its simplicity framing the bold cast like a valuable painting, humbly displaying its priceless talent. Costume design by Lindah Lepou was functional and in the era, a colour palette to reflect each characters personality, I particularly enjoyed Edward and Richards head to toe brown numbers.
95% of a musicals success is in the music itself. The collaborative effort of musical arranger Tarna Waipara, composer Poulima Salima and music directors Glen Jackson and Malcolm Lakatani was a collaboration made in heaven, the songs were a well-arranged mixture of humour, solidarity, tradition and fun production numbers combined with the delightful original choreography by Amanaki Prescott and new choreography by Livermore and Troy Tu’ua. There were musical numbers that had my mind reflect similarities from Dick Van Dyke in Chitty Chitty Bang Bangs ‘Me ‘Ole Bamboo’ number to contrasting more dramatic numbers similar in tone to Phantom of The Opera. All done in Kila Kokonut Krew style none the less, but couldn’t help see some similarities in musical approach.

Kila Kokonut Krew should be over the moon, chest puffingly proud of this production. They have collaborated to create a new, fresh musical that is worthy of tours internationally. Pacific Islander heritage is deeply soulful and I believe would spark deep interest in audiences who enjoy musicals that portray uniqueness and promote cultural diversity and history. A must see musical! Go New Zealand! Sensational theatre!

Only on at Riverside Parramatta for a short season, get your tickets 18-21st June

Hilary Cole in O.C.DIva on at the Hayes Theatre

Hilary Cole in O.C.DIVA

Hilary Cole – star of Squabbalogic’s hit shows Carrie: The Musical and The Drowsy Chaperone – recounts her obsession with… well, most things.
Featuring music that ranges from Stephen Sondheim and Jerome Kern to The Beatles and Blondie, Hilary tells the story of her obsessive nature and what it means to find solid footing in the midst of a manic existence.

This was my first experience of Hilary Cole. I had heard about her through the grapevine of others who had seen her in musicals Carrie and The Drowsy Chaperone. My expectations were high but unassuming. I went into the theatre with a naked mind so to speak on my expectations of this young rising actor. Cole came onto that Hayes stage with the presence of a true professional, poised and collected she opened her cabaret season beautifully. I thought her song choices and arrangements were cleverly wrought together within a relevant storyline of her generation. She was unapologetically funny and contagiously involved with every word she was expressing to her engaged and responsive audience. Miss Cole has put together a Cabaret that has that human spirit relation that one on the receiving end can find meaning in ones own life. I know I most certainly did. That indeed is not easy to do, commendable and a talent.

Cabaret I so often liken to stand up comedy, though it is more so than often much classier, stylish and elegant. All words I wouldn’t describe most stand up comedians. The similarity lies indefinitely though in the importance of the ingredients to make such daring entertainment work effectively, without the disastrous sound of… Well, nothing from the audience, bar perhaps a cough from the back row. Cabaret like comedy is a daring, brave and precise art form for any soul who has chosen to take its path. It’s often a solo act (sometimes with accompaniment) that requires heavy reliance on your charm, charisma and capacity to engage in story telling via song. All which without perfect measure can be interpreted as contrived. Like comedy you can’t hide behind smoke and mirrors, you have the talent for it or you simply do not. Luckily for fresh-faced Hilary Cole she has been graced with a tremendous talent that will only grow richer from both life and showbiz experience.

I was most impressed with this young rising stars vocal range, she showcased every glorious vocal pocket she could from those punchy high notes to the subtle old-fashioned tones that had me think of some of those classic entertainers such as Doris Day and Judy Garland. Miss Cole has clearly surrounded herself with a calibre of people who have brought out and nourished the very best of her talent. O.C.Diva is a mixture of dishevelled humour and contemplative engaging moments that have you hanging on her every word and note. Miss Cole is an inspired rising star to whom we should all be keeping a close eye upon. This woman of the stage has undoubtedly a bright future in this tough industry we call theatre.

O.C.Diva is playing at the Hayes Theatre for only two more Sundays the 22nd and the 29th of June.

BRAD CHECKED IN

BRAD CHECKED IN

Synopsis: Brad’s marriage is over – well it has been for at least a month anyway – so now he’s free to do the social networking thing. He hooks up with Di, who’s had work done and unsure if she’s still married to a bloke who wants to rearrange Brad’s face. Then there’s Rebecca, an old flame from Uni days who’s definitely married. When current wife Maggie turns up unannounced, Brad’s two worlds – online and real – collide, bringing fresh meaning to the word, ‘awkward’.

Review: When I started reviewing I promised myself that I would deliver elements that I felt were lacking from a lot of theatre reviewers, I told myself I would provide reviews that were comprehensive in their content discussing every aspect of the play, not veering from what must be said about a theatrical event. I promised that I would speak truth and not sugar coat, or say very little at all in fear of upsetting or offending the creatives involved. In saying that though I also promised myself I would critique constructively.

On my invite to ‘Brad Checked In’, I had heard whispers here and there that this play was rather good. I suppose those whispers could have been from its past run at the TAP Gallery, or perhaps those whispers were on the tail end of expectation that this work would be up to pa with the very popular premise of social networking productions currently on stages around Sydney. When walking into the theatre and viewing the set design and the first hand elements of this play I must admit I was already concerned about what perhaps I would be seeing. The set was cluttered and underwhelming with very little thought put into its purpose. Lighting design too was plain and bare.

The play started in what felt to be in a delayed manner with no sign of an actor which felt expected after listening to a popular tune for half a minute. From start to finish this production was clunky and over all dramaturgically and directionally flawed. On fully reading the programme I was shocked that this play was firstly written by a woman and secondly been produced before. The actors seemed to be given little to no direction at all, in moments of heated discussion it was like watching a bad TV soap opera. Steven Tait may have thought it an organic process to allow actors to have free rein to interpret their characters situations or go with whatever felt was right at the time. This is inexperienced directing at its worst. I failed to understand the choices he made for his actors or if he had made many at all. It felt to me the actors were very much left to fend for themselves. I found it rather ironic that the director played the bartender who did very little but stand in the corner on his phone allowing disastrous banter and physicality occur in front of him with no response.

The play itself written by Paula Noble was full of sexist ideology and misogynist ideals which I found offensive and abrupt. A woman with a psychology background I would have expected much more insight into these characters reason for behaviour but instead we were delivered stereotypical portrayals that are so often unrealistic. The content was hyper sensationalized and impersonal.

Daniel Bunton played Grub the sleazy egotistical mate who drinks beers and tries to hook Brad up with women online. Though Burton’s performance was comical, his diction was so poor I often had no idea what he was saying. The jokes not to his fault were cringe worthy and pig-headed. Imogen French played Di the older love interest of Brad, she played up to the part well considering she had very little to work with, not a deep character at all.
Andrew George played the small role of Gary, Di’s brutish jealous husband. Though he got a lot of laughs from the audience his character again like the others were stereo typical, abrupt, and idiotic. Celia Kelly played Rebecca another married old flame of Brad’s, she delivered her performance with passion and was direct with her characters emotions, but again a poorly written character that was all over the place and unstructured.
Yannick Lawry played the man in the spotlight Brad. Lawry did give it his all in doing his up most best to drive his character into a redeeming direction, it’s such a shame that he had clearly been given little direction from his director leaving me feeling like I was watching a lamb go to the slaughter.

Kate Englefield who played Brads ex-wife was the shining light in this laundry basket of a production. The moment she stepped on stage she demanded attention and it was given to her, she was clear and committed, her movement was purposeful and used effectively through out her performance. I highly enjoyed her as an actor, even though her character was a drip I believed her. I was left wondering why she would engage herself in a production of this quality.

Steven Tait and Paula Noble must be commended for giving it a go, theatre is not easy and it takes a lot of guts to put yourself out there and produce something new. As two newcomers to theatre making I would suggest they start with something small and build themselves up to creating something on a larger scale. Watch more and read more, learn more and get advice from parties who will be honest and constructive. Quality is in the details, the details in this production sadly were not considered heavily enough. This show was not ready on any level to be on a stage such as SITCO. This show unfortunately is why independent theatre suffers from lack of attendance, $32 for a show of this caliber is rich with little reward. Art is subjective but quality is fact, it is or it isn’t. An awkward theatre experience, and not in a good way.