Burnie Port, North West Tasmania

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8th June 2019               Review: The Foreigner
16th May 2019               Review:Nineteen Eighty-Four
11th May 2019               Review: When I Grow Up

The Foreigner Comes To Town

The Foreigner Directed by Barbara Gilbery
Saturday, 8th June 2019, Leven Theatre, Ulverstone.

The Foreigner
Photo courtesy of shared publicity photos on Facebook

As a Foreigner in a foreign land you get a funny idea of what ‘foreign’ is. It feels like it’s everyone else. Well Barbara Gilbery is a fellow Scot and has taken on this very strange comedy set in the deep south of America and played by Australians. Who’s the foreigner? Read on.

The play starts with two Englishmen Froggy (Keith Haywood) and Charlie (Michael Dunn) arriving at a Georgian guest house. Froggy is a confident military man who’s dropping Charlie off for a relaxing weekend. Charlie has personal issues and just wants to be alone. Froggy prevents anyone from talking to Charlie by telling the owner (Julie-Anne Jolly) Charlie is foreign. He then leaves, but he'll be back.

This is the set up to the private conversations that Charlie overhears. Initially suspicious of Charlie, Charlie plays up to his role as a foreigner and everyone starts to see him the way they want to see him. Charlie finds out about the pregnant debutante (Elizabeth Jolly), the idiot brother (Sam Pinnell) who is being gas lighted to keep him from his inheritance and the husband (Matt Langham) who is in cahoots with the local sheriff (Will Lawson) to get the guest house condemned.

Dunn as the silent watcher made a strong core to the performance and showed his discomfort with measured activity and restrained skill. His theatrically while speaking a made up ‘foreign’ language was hilarious. He hasn’t been on stage for a few years and it’s good to see him back. The other characters were to varying degrees caricatured. Southern belle Elizabeth Jolly was a joy to watch and shows she can ‘play it straight’ with her comic lines. Matt Langham played the nervous schemer well but was slightly overwhelmed by the sheer volume and movement of Lawson. They made an enjoyable pair of villains.

Haywood is a relative newcomer to the stage and although the pacing of his role did slow the introductory parts of the play I am impressed by his natural ability and how quickly he has learnt characterisation and other stagecraft. A previously untapped skill I believe.

Julie-Anne Jolly as the guest house owner was the way Charlie was made into the Foreigner. She portrayed a bustling, slightly doo-lally and lonely widow who just needs someone to look after. Julie-Anne Jolly is very funny on stage and her interactions with the other characters quickly introduced the set up and scene for the story.

There were good laughs right through the performance but a particular mention I’m keeping for Sam Pinnell who I have seen developing in theatre for the last few years. Most of the really big belly laughs were due to him. The scene where Ellard teaches Charlie how to speak English had series of laughs that rode over each other as Ellard’s simplicity helps him improve Charlie’s pronunciation of ‘fork’ (“two parts for-wurk”). Very skilfully done.

Will Lawon also dialled it up eleven with Sheriff Owen bounding from one side of the stage to the other seemingly sure of himself one moment as a white supremacist and immediately falling into paranoia the next at the antics of Charlie ‘The Foreigner’ . Funny, even without the words.

Now, a large number of the cast appeared in my production of ‘Closer’ in February and I have to say it was very strange to see the non speaking cast speaking. I am very sorry now not to have given them a few more lines.

I’m not sure there were any Georgians in the audience but there was a consistent southern feel to the accents with a little antipodean drift perfectly fine for a local audience.

I don’t think the Foreigner is a great play. It’s a light comedy with a surprising but slightly disjointed ending. It’s comfortably domestic in some ways, but you know what. I laughed, I laughed a lot. Director Barbara Gilbery has worked hard with her cast to get this play to the stage. I find it quite an odd script and she has made it believable and balanced. Some of the comic timing was marvellous. It was slow in places but wasn’t boring and it wasn’t static. That’s saying something for a play that all happens in one room. I left uplifted and impressed.

As well as directing, Barbara has done the lion’s share of the production work herself. She has introduced ‘Scene sponsors’ something we don’t often see in North West Tasmania and has had the support of local businesses. Indeed, the wood burner on stage, as a prop, was for sale in the program. Well, isn’t that just great community theatre?

Well done to Barbara who I hope we will see more of in north west theatre (We will!) and to the cast for providing such an enjoyable evening. Perhaps this foreigner can lend some new ideas to what we do on the north west coast. Barbara has certainly passed on her enthusiasm for what can be done in community theatre.

by RH

The Total Totalitarian

Nineteen Eighty-Four Directed by Megan Jolly
Thu, 16th May 2019, Earl Art Centre, Launceston

Nineteen Eight-Four
Photo courtesy of shared publicity photos on Facebook

I often think watching a play you’ve seen before means hard work. If you know the story well, it’s difficult to sit back and relax without your own expectations raising critical voices. I read George Orwell’s Nineteen Eight Four when I was seventeen. I read it because I thought it was the kind of book I should be reading. Unlike the Dickenses and Shakespeares and other worthy names, I enjoyed and understood Orwell. I was pulled in. I felt smart... and terrified. That’s where I first heard of Big Brother (two years before the TV show came along) doublethink, thought police. I read in-depth about political theory, totalitarians, the proletariat, means of production and socialism. In short it was an education.

I went to see 1984 yesterday. I really wanted to enjoy it. I was worried I might not. In the compact space of the Earl Theatre, the play opened with two floor to roof curtains projecting black and white images of the city and soldiers and propaganda rallies reminiscent of the political backdrop of the 1940s. The face of Big Brother looked over us and we were introduced to robot like humans making the machine work in the Ministry of Truth. Rolled up messages processed back on forth and recorded audio recited technical language as history was altered.

A young looking middle aged Winston (Travis Hennessey) was invisible amongst the workers as they mimed through a two minute hate, their stark blue shirts and trousers displaying uniformity. The hate was pointed towards the audience in mime. The set felt constrained but the acting didn’t. The curtains opened and the small cast deftly set up scenes in the office, refectory and the streets of London. The frames of buildings without walls let us look inside at the daily activities of the people of Airstrip One. We were looking straight in. On every wall there was a telescreen and Big Brother looked out.

A lot of dialogue came from disembodied voices and recordings. I thought this worked for the totalitarian voices but I would have preferred Winston’s internal monologues to have been spoken by the actor. A small detail really but the scene and setting seemed perfectly set up to allow this.

Winston succeeded in appearing assertive and childlike at the same time. His relationship with the subversive Julia (Debbie Parish) fell together in a series of well conceived scenes, displaying sexual tension and release and the tangle of personal desires with political behaviour. In fact, Julia was played very delicately with both sides of the character – the personal and the mask shown to the all-seeing government being apparent throughout.

The second act took Winston to the Ministry of Love and kept him there. There were long monologues from Emmanuel Goldstein (Jeff Hockley) and O’Brien (Jonathan Pedler)which were presented as talks on the state of humanity. Both actors appeared convinced of their arguments and entirely reasonable. For such lengthy pieces with almost no action on stage they were extremely engaging. Then O’Brien literally turned up the power and things got scary.

The incarceration of Winston was deftly handled. We witnessed his descent via several miniature scenes where characters we’ve met throughout the play are brought into the cell briefly before being hauled away to Room 101. Not all the actors were equally terrified of this but to see three people broken by the system staring down at a piece of bread they have been conditioned not to take while an extracted tooth lies nearby, and all this not three feet from where I was sitting, sent a shiver down my spine.

Winston's final agonies pulled the play to its conclusion in logical harrowing steps. In the book you are in Winston’s head and so too was I watching this play. The disturbing relationship between Winston and O’Brian was beautifully framed with the minimal but well considered set. Oh, and I could barely take my eyes off the stage wounds.

The play achieved the look of a totalitarian regime without overplaying the surveillance. The threat was there, but the tyranny had the calmness of control which came together for the last scenes to watch the slow crushing of a man by forces greater than he can conceive. The confusion and his inability to trust his own mind were played beautifully.

I particularly noted the portrayal of several characters by Olivia Brodzinski who is always a joy to watch but all the ensemble did a wonderful job of making the world reality.

So I was taken back to this world I first visited as a seventeen year old. I thought I might understand it better now I’m older and wiser but the play did what it should. It got into my head. The setting was wonderful, the action took a little while to find its feet but when it did I was enthralled. A very skilled piece of theatre.

And by the end I really did see five fingers.

by RH

Encore Studio People Are Ridiculously Talented

Thursday, 11th May 2019

When I Grow Up - Youth Variety Show. A lot has changed at Encore at the last few years. A new owner Caroline Smith, a new team and a lot of new faces on stage. Some things haven’t changed: the enthusiasm of the students and the talent that this small performing arts studio are not the least of these. It was some showcase for a Thursday night.

A team consisting of Caroline Smith, Bec Carswell, Codi Lincoln and Helenmarie presented a fast paced show moving from one great musical performance to the next. A big opening number ‘Green eggs and ham’ launched the show with a big punch of energy and this was kept up through two hours of massively enjoyable entertainment, only slightly diminished by recurrent pops from the sound system, something that happens all too commonly in the Burnie Arts and Function Centre.

It was great to see kids of all ages up on the stage, all having a good time and all showing talent and stage presence. It was great to see the wide range of ages and experience coming together in a way that seems inexplicable but I suspect is down to the nurturing enthusiasm of Caroline Smith herself. It was great to see Caroline appear on stage as Mary Poppins at the end of the first act surrounded by her students and supported by a sea of kids and the myriad talents of Ezra Shelverton who humorously demonstrated his gift for stage clowning in more than one number.

Other memorable performances came from Danah Collins who sang ‘The Last Day of Earth’ while accompanying herself on the guitar and supported by the dancing of Stella Nibbs and Taylor Rand. Cody Lincoln sang a very moving ‘Come To Your Senses ‘ from Tick Tick Boom. I hadn’t heard the song before and YouTubed it afterwards but it was not nearly as affecting as the beautiful rendition by Cody. Natasha Bakker who is always a joy to watch (I usually catch her at the Christmas concert) sang 'The Girl In 14G' and played her character and sang a range so difficult, it is rarely seen on the Burnie stage.

But it was about the group. Huge groups of kids, numerous costume stages and well rehearsed choregraphy. I could nitpick about the bum notes here and there, the little lacks of confidence and some minor goofs. I'd rather say that I was expecting a ‘good solid show’ and instead what I got was a well-polished knockout. I left raving about it. I was impressed by this new generation of Encore and proud to be living in the North West Coast where all this talent exists ... and not only does it exist, it is discovered and cultivated at Encore Performing Arts Studio.

by RH