Monday, July 16, 2007

Mamma Mia, here I go again: Sleeping Beauty -- Part 2

Okay, okay. Here's the director's cut of the Herald Sun review published last Friday, July 13, 2007.

For the preamble (and the show's playlist) see here. I've also left some comments at Theatre Notes, here and here.

I still have plenty more to say... (God, wot a surprise!)

I haven't, for example, mentioned Tony Bartuccio's choreography at all. One of the best moments of the show -- towards the end -- is when Geyer and Smith do a dance which mashes ballet and gospel riffs.

It begins with Geyer's wrists crossed and her fists clenched. There's not a bunheaded balletomane alive who would not recognise this as the universal symbol of death. From there, Geyer splays her fingers, minstrel like, and waggles them around "praise the lord!" fashion. This is typical of the sly riches in the choreography. Geyer and Smith more than do it justice. They don't look taxed by it and they don't miss a beat. So, the dance is both well-judged (by Bartuccio) and well executed. And, of course, it's well rehearsed. (So Michael Kantor can take some credit too!)

One final thing, for the time being, Bardassa at On Stage Melbourne found Sleeping Beauty "hugely enjoyable" but that it "[didn't] come near... the dark and nightmarish theatre work" he was expecting. He also wrote about the curse on "dark and creepy" shows at The Malthouse, a nod to the Melbourne Theatre Company's recent production of The Pillowman, which was also in the Merlyn Theatre. You'll have a tough time finding out more of his thoughts, however, as the review was taken down before it made it into the Google caches.

UPDATE JULY 17: Bardassa's review is back up.

'Starman' Ian "Swan Lake" Stenlake as Beauty's Big Bad Brother (click to enlarge)

Sleeping Beauty by Michael Kantor, Paul Jackson, Maryanne Lynch and Anna Tregloan. Malthouse Theatre until July 28.

Michael Kantor and the team cut a bunch of songs out of time and paste them, Mamma Mia like, into a kind of weird ransom-note narrative. Weird, yes. Grand, no. But it also mixes and mashes the original fairy tale -- like music -- with a bunch of other stories. And it invites us to look at the chunky shapes and project a story.

Instead of a childless king and queen in need of an heir, we have an older couple (Grant Smith and Renée Geyer in dressing gown and brunch coat) blessed with a newborn girl. (Cue Axiom's 'A Little Ray of Sunshine' and 'There She Goes' by The La's.)

The older couple is a nice psychological touch, but it's introduced and promptly abandoned -- much like their unloved grown-up son. Later, as the baby grows into a babe (Alison Bell), there are hints that our story might be one of depression and teen suicide. But these ideas also vanish into fat air.

Musically, we careen from DMX ('Go To Sleep, Bitch... Die!') to a Brahms lied ('O tod wie bitter bist du') and straight on to Supertramp ('Dreamer'). There are some smart ideas. After a red hood is draped over Beauty's shoulders, she belts out the Runaways song, 'Cherry Bomb'. This girl's not hunted, she's hunting. She screams: "I'm the fox you've been waiting for." Look out, wolfie, your kingdom's gonna come.

One of the most fascinating threads to follow through (and beyond) the show is the lullaby 'Hush Little Baby'. Everyone has had a crack at that from Bo Diddley in the 1950s to Eminem. There are countless versions in between. This show, mostly, uses the early seventies hit version by Carly Simon and James Taylor. (You know the one: "Mock. YEAH. Ing. YEAH. Bird. YEAH. Yeah. YEAH.")

Musically, the show has a couple of anchor points. One of them is David Bowie, who turned the rock concert into theatre more than thirty years ago with Ziggy Stardust. Elvis Costello is ever-present, too, even when the band is playing The Jam or Geyer is singing Aznavour. There's an Attractions twang in the guitars.

But, I've gotta say, the highlights are all in the performances. Geyer, Smith, Bell and Ian Stenlake are exceptionally good. Geyer and Smith, in particular, act and dance superbly. (It goes without saying that their singing is awesome.)

Pyjamas aside, the costumes are either obvious or puzzlingly understated. Or make jokey, half-arsed nods to Romeo Castellucci and the video clip for Duran Duran's 'Girls on Film'. The dramatic structure is both rigid and brittle. The pace is flat. The sound, on the whole, is boxy.

But the greatest failing in what is, in effect, a narrative concert, is in the musical direction. If only someone like Mark Trevorrow had been engaged. Yes, the man who fills Bob Downe's polyester Safari suit has a musical intelligence that would have turned this show from Cherry Bomb to Bomb Alaska.

Sleeping Beauty is a brilliantly entertaining show, but it should have been theatre as well.

Pic purloined from Man About Town, Richard Watts, who adds another vote to the 'eisteddfod' column here.

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Blogger Alison Croggon said...

Just noting here (I'm a courteous gal) that I've taken issue with something here over there...

7:31 PM  
Anonymous Scotia Monkivitch said...

Hi Chris, not sure how to contact other than through this post - I am part of an ensemble from Brissie - sacredCOW - and we currently have a show on at Carlton Courthouse LaMama called "the quivering" we would love to have you along and to hear your thoughts about the work. I can send through media release etc about the work if you are keen. With thanks Scotia

10:45 AM  
Blogger Chris Boyd said...

Thanks Scotia. I've got a press release from th good folks at "L.A. Lama" and I'll get there when I can.


2:49 PM  

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