Safety Switch

Old Fitz Theatre, May 13

Rowan Freeman, Fiona Pepper and Warwick Allsopp. Photo: Mansoor Noor

Rowan Freeman, Fiona Pepper and Warwick Allsopp. Photo: Mansoor Noor

Rowan Freeman’s dark comedy Safety Switch was inspired by a real-life incident when he was questioned by police in 2011. In fact, some of the dialogue is taken directly from a recording of the police interview.

On the one hand, it’s hard to believe such a thing could happen; on the other it feels frighteningly plausible.

It’s late at night. Two actors (Freeman and Mansoor Noor) have been arrested for possession of assault rifles on an East Sydney street and brought in for questioning.

Interviewed individually, neither of them is terribly worried initially. After all, the guns are clearly fake – plastic props they’ve been using in a stage show, which they were just taking to their car. The paint is even peeling visibly off one of them.

But the detectives (Warwick Allsopp and Fiona Pepper), who have agendas of their own, aren’t convinced that’s all there is to it. When contradictions emerge in the actors’ stories, a silly situation starts to escalate into something serious.

Mansoor Noor, Warwick Allsopp and Fiona Pepper. Photo: Mansoor Noor

Mansoor Noor, Warwick Allsopp and Fiona Pepper. Photo: Mansoor Noor

Plugging into the current climate of fear, some of the writing could be tightened. One device used to relay important information to the audience feels unlikely, and rather than tightening the noose, the end peters out a little, but overall Safety Switch is a smart, satirical drama.

Staged on the set of the main production currently running at the Fitz – The House of Ramon Iglesia – with drapes over some of their props, it looks a bit rough and ready but it doesn’t really matter.

Presented by After David Productions, Eden Falk directs a tight, well-performed production that is thoroughly entertaining while packing a disturbing punch.

Running 50-minutes, the play – which was shortlisted by Playwriting Australia’s National Script Workshop in 2013 – sits neatly in the late night Old Fitz slot. Following the impressive Dolores starring Kate Box and Janine Watson, the late-night show is proving a great initiative.

All in all, Safety Switch is an entertaining, robust little show that plugs into the zeitgeist: a fun way to round off an evening.

Safety Switch plays at the Old Fitz until May 24. Bookings: www.oldfitztheare.com/safety-switch or 0403 995 761

Hayes Theatre Co – coming soon in 2015

A week ago, the Hayes Theatre Co had its twice-yearly Coming Soon event at which they announced their program for the second half of this year. Although the company has only been in existence for 18 months, we’ve come to expect the Hayes to give a good launch – and so they did.

Hosted by David Campbell, one of the producers running the venue, the evening began with a lively video montage telling the Hayes story to date. Dedicated to the presentation of independent musical theatre and cabaret, it certainly illustrated what a great start the-little-venue-that-could has had.

Blasting off with Sweet Charity and The Drowsy Chaperone, other productions have included Blood Brothers, Miracle City, LoveBites, Next to Normal, new musicals Beyond Desire and Truth, Beauty and a Picture of You and the current production of Dogfight, as well as a cabaret festival and several Month of Sundays cabaret seasons. It hasn’t all been an unmitigated success but it’s been an exciting ride with some sensational high points, proving beyond doubt that the Hayes is an invaluable addition to Sydney’s musical theatre scene.

So what do they have in store for us for the rest of the year?

Cabaret Season 2015

Running from June 1 – 28, this year’s cabaret season includes 17 acts by artists including Marina Prior, Phil Scott, Amanda Harrison, Rob Mills, Tyran Parke, Mitchell Butel, Josie Lane and Damien Leith among others.

It begins on June 1 with Australiana: A Celebration of Australian Musical Theatre directed by Genevieve Lemon with Max Lambert as musical director. Featuring performers such as Nancye Hayes, Christy Sullivan and Patrice Tipoki, the concert will raise funds for the presentation of a new musical in November as part of the New Musicals Australia program, now being run by the Hayes.

The cast recording of Luckiest Productions’ acclaimed Miracle City, recorded at the Hayes, will be launched that night.

Phil Scott gave us a taste of his new cabaret show Reviewing the Situation, which he has written with Terence O’Connell and which he will perform as part of the cabaret season. Telling the story of Lionel Bart, composer of the musical Oliver! the character and concept would seem to be right in the pocket for Scott and one of the shows to look out for.

Akio!

The Hayes will host its first children’s show when it presents Blue Theatre Company’s Akio! – the story of a shy, young boy who is bullied at school and escapes by immersing himself in video games. Things get strange when he and Harumi, the girl of his dreams, are sucked into a video game. Akio! plays on July 4 & 5.

Heathers

Jaz Flowers sings Dead Girl Walking from Heathers

Jaz Flowers sings Dead Girl Walking from Heathers. Photo: Noni Carroll

Trevor Ashley was on hand to discuss Heathers The Musical, which he will direct with a cast including Lucy Maunder and Jaz Flowers. A rock musical by Lawrence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy based on the cult 1988 film, Heathers opened off-Broadway last year. It tells the deliciously dark story of Veronica Sawyer, a brainy, beautiful, teenage misfit who manages to become part of The Heathers, a powerful clique of popular girls all named Heather at Westerberg High School. When Veronica falls in love with new kid J.D. and Heather Chandler, leader of the Heathers pack, says she will ruin Veronica’s social life, there will be hell to pay.

The New York Times described the show as a “rowdy, guilty-pleasure musical”. Ashley’s production for the Hayes is the first time the musical has been staged outside the US. Flowers raised the roof at the launch with her blistering rendition of the number Dead Girl Walking. Heathers plays July 19 – August 9.

Masterclass

A hit in Melbourne, Left Bauer Productions brings its acclaimed production of Terence McNally’s renowned play Masterclass to the Hayes. Inspired by Maria Callas’ 1971 visit to New York’s Juilliard School of Music, the production stars Maria Mercedes, who recently won a Green Room Award for her portrayal of Callas. The cast also includes Blake Bowden who sang Recondita Armonia from the opera Tosca at the launch. Fast becoming a regular at the Hayes, Campbell quipped: “we’re not going to let him go until he gets it right!”

Masterclass plays August 12 – 30.

High Society

Amy Lehpamer sings I'll Be All Right from High Society

Amy Lehpamer sings It’s All Right With Me  from High Society. Photo: Noni Carroll

The Hayes Theatre Co will present Cole Porter’s classic musical High Society. It’s the first show presented solely by the Hayes rather than with one of the production companies involved with the theatre, or an external producer. Richard Carroll will serve as producer.

Amy Lehpamer will play Tracy Lord, the gorgeous, privileged but coolly pretentious young socialite, whose swelegant wedding plans are thrown into disarray when her ex-husband turns up as well as a pesky, undercover, tabloid reporter. Directed by Helen Dallimore, the cast will also include Bert LaBonte, Bobby Fox and Virginia Gay – or “Amy Lephamer, Bert LaBonte, Bobby Le Fox and Virginia Le Gay” as they will be known for the production, joked Dallimore.

Singing It’s All Right With Me, Lehpamer – who is on an incredible roll right now – showed why she’s been cast as Tracy Lord.

High Society plays from September 4.

Rent

Highway Run Productions (Toby Francis and Lauren Peters) will present Jonathan Larson’s rock musical Rent in association with the Hayes. Loosely based on La boheme, Rent is set in New York City’s East Village, over the course of a year in the early 1990s, where a group of impoverished artist friends struggle to live, love and create under the shadow of the HIV/AIDS epidemic The cast of Dogfight performed the song Seasons of Love from the show and set spines tingling.

Rent plays October 8 – November 1.

Violet

Mitchell Butel will direct the musical Violet with book and lyrics by Brian Crawley and music by Jeanine Tesori, which he described as his favourite Broadway show of the last 10 years. A road movie of a musical, it is based on a short story by Doris Betts called The Ugliest Pilgrim about a young, disfigured woman who embarks on a bus journey from North Carolina to Oklahoma to find the preacher she believes can heal her. The production will star Samantha Dodemaide who sang the numbers All to Pieces and Lay Down Your Head.

Violet plays November 2 – December 20.

I Might Take My Shirt Off

As part of A Month of Sundays, Dash Kruck will perform his cabaret show I Might Take My Shirt Off, which premiered at the Brisbane Powerhouse in February. Featuring original songs by Kruck and composer Chris Perren, Kruck performed a short extract from the show. He plays Lionel, a timid flooring salesman and cabaret virgin struggling to cope with a relationship break-up, who finds himself on stage when his German therapist Grizelda pushes him into doing a cabaret show as a way to express himself. On the basis of the launch taster, it’s a very funny evening.

I Might Take My Shirt Off plays on September 20 & 27 and on October 11.

Neglected Musicals

Nicholas Hammond and David Campbell discuss Neglected Musicals' Dear World

Nicholas Hammond and David Campbell discuss Neglected Musicals’ Dear World. Photo: Noni Carroll

Neglected Musicals will present Jerry Herman’s Dear World, directed by Nicholas Hammond. Based on Jean Giraudoux’s play The Madwoman of Chaillot, Hammond described the 1969 musical as “25 years ahead of its time”. The Broadway production, he said, was over-produced; as a small production, he believes it works a dream. The staged reading will feature Genevieve Lemon and Simon Burke, with Max Lambert as musical director. Dear World will be presented on August 3.

It was also announced that the Hayes has launched TALK through its website, which consists of regular podcasts and a series of editorials by Daily Review arts writer/reviewer Ben Neutze about musical theatre and cabaret.

All up, it’s an impressive line-up from one of the exciting companies in town.

Full details of the Hayes Theatre Co season can be found on its website: www.hayestheatre.com.au

The Unknown Soldier

Lend Lease Darling Quarter Theatre, May 16

Sandra Eldridge and Felix Johnson. Photo: Heidrun Lohr

Sandra Eldridge and Felix Johnson. Photo: Heidrun Lohr

Monkey Baa Theatre Company has made its reputation with delightful stage adaptations of well-known books and stories for children and young people (aged three to 18).

The Unknown Soldier is its first brand new play, written by the company’s co-creative director Sandra Eldridge to honour the centenary of World War I.

Aimed at young people aged 10+, it’s a moving two-hander, examining dark themes including the horror of war and the devastating impact of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder without shying away from their seriousness but handling them with a light touch.

The play uses a simple device to move between two eras and stories. Thirteen-year old Charlie is staying with his pacifist Aunt Angela because, as we learn during the course of the play, his soldier father has returned from Afghanistan with PTSD and needs help.

To try to distract the bored teenager from doing little but play a computer war game, his aunt produces an old suitcase she has bought without inspecting its contents. Looking through it, they discover letters from a young Australian soldier called Albert, who fought in France in the Battle of Fromelles, written to his mother.

Felix Johnson plays both Charlie and Albert. Fascinated by what he reads in the letters, Charlie starts doing research on the Internet to find out more about Albert and his fate.

Eldridge plays Aunt Angela and Grace, a volunteer nurse who goes to France in search of her son, who is missing in action, and tends to the wounded Albert.

Felix Johnson. Photo: Heidrun Lohr

Felix Johnson. Photo: Heidrun Lohr

Eldridge researched the piece by examining war archives, diary extracts, books and poetry. Without the play ever feeling like a lecture, she conveys historical information about the Australian involvement in France in World War I and the horror of war both then and now.

She explains what PTSD is and how it can affect soldiers and their families. She introduces the Unknown Soldier and explains a little about who he is and what he represents. She also includes a brief section about the Australian War Memorial and touches on the meaning of ANZAC Day.

Her great achievement is to include all this within the context of an involving drama in which the information emerges naturally from the parallel stories she has created, and to convey it simply and clearly.

She has also leavened the play by folding in some gentle humour, with laughter on opening night at Charlie’s boredom, his frustration with his aunt’s slow Internet and his dislike of her organic, vegetarian cooking.

Matt Edgerton directs with great clarity on an impressive set by Anna Gardiner: a lounge room backed by a wall with jagged edges as if it has been damaged in a bomb blast, with little sections of the wall used to reveal various lighting effects. Matt Cox’s atmospheric lighting design and David Stalley’s sound help us imagine the scenes in the trenches, even though the home furniture is still used. It’s simply but effectively done.

Johnson moves convincingly between 13-year old Charlie and Albert (merely adding a slouch hat) and his revelation of Charlie’s fears for his PTSD-affected father is very touching. Eldridge is a warm, reassuring presence as both Angela and Grace.

My only quibble would be that Charlie articulates and understands ideas that might be a bit sophisticated for a 13-year old. A friend suggested it would perhaps be more convincing if the character were 15. But that’s a minor qualm.

There weren’t a huge number of young people in the opening night audience, and quite a few of those who were there were younger than 10, so it’s hard to gauge what the target audience would make of it. I imagine they would respond very positively to a thoughtful play that handles difficult themes with a great deal of integrity and care, and which seems to me to be well pitched for young people.

The Unknown Soldier plays at Lend Lease Darling Quarter Theatre until May 22. Bookings: www.monkeybaa.com.au or 02 8264 9340

Dogfight

Hayes Theatre Co, May 6

Luigi Lucente and Hilary Cole. Photo: Noni Carroll

Luigi Lucente and Hilary Cole. Photo: Noni Carroll

The musical Dogfight begins with a nasty, humiliating prank but turns into a sweet, tender show where redemptive love trumps misogyny.

Written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (music and lyrics) together with Peter Duchan (book), Dogfight premiered off-Broadway in 2012. It now makes its Australian premiere with a stunning production directed and produced by Neil Gooding in association with Hayes Theatre Co.

Based on a little-known 1991 film starring River Phoenix, with screenplay by Bob Comfort, Dogfight begins in 1967 with a blank-faced, clearly traumatised young marine called Eddie Birdlace (Luigi Lucente) on a Greyhound bus headed for San Francisco.

His memories take us back to 1963 when he and his two best mates – Boland (Toby Francis) and Bernstein (Rowan Witt) – spent a rowdy night on the town in San Francisco before being shipped out to Vietnam the following morning.

Swaggeringly macho, with just 13 weeks training under their belt, they naively believe they are going to storm into battle and return heroes. Their attitude to women is as aggressive as their attitude to war.

They decide to celebrate their last night on home soil with a “dogfight”, a vile “Jarhead” tradition whereby they compete to see who can bring the ugliest woman to a party. Each puts money into a pot; the winner takes all.

At the heart of the show are Eddie and Rose Fenny (Hilary Cole), the shy, awkward, guitar-playing waitress he picks up at a diner and takes to the party, then unexpectedly falls for.

Duchan has created a strong narrative structure from which the songs emerge naturally. Ranging from testosterone-powered rock numbers to lilting, wistful melodies, it’s an appealing, catchy score. Some of the songs have a folksy feel, with Rose foreshadowing the hippie era, while her number “Nothing Short of Wonderful” has something of a Sondheim influence.

James Browne and Georgia Hopkins have designed an economical set backed by a gauzy “brick wall” scrim featuring an enormous image of Cole’s face through which we glimpse the terrific six-piece band led by musical director Isaac Hayward. Four large diner seats are moved around into various configurations for the different locations. Effectively lit by Ross Graham and Alex Berlage, it’s a flexible space in which Gooding keeps the tightly choreographed action flowing freely: yet another clever design solution for the tiny 111-seat venue.

Cole is beguiling as Rose. She is naturally very pretty but manages to convince us of Rose’s vulnerability and gaucheness (helped by Elizabeth Franklin’s excellent costuming) as well as her strength, spirit and humour, while her pure, shining voice suits the character’s innocence perfectly.

Lucente is equally impressive as Eddie, conveying the turmoil of emotion coiled beneath the tough, terse exterior in a beautifully understated performance that moves from bravado to brokenness. There is great chemistry between the two of them, and both moved me to tears.

Luigi Lucente, Rowan Witt and Toby Francis. Photo: Noni Carroll

Luigi Lucente, Rowan Witt and Toby Francis. Photo: Noni Carroll

Among the strong ensemble cast of 11, Francis radiates Boland’s pumped-up, bone-headed machismo, while Witt gives a very convincing portrayal of the geeky Bernstein, who gets high on the general macho posturing and snaps at one point in a surprisingly brutal moment.

Johanna Allen brings powerhouse vocals to the role of the brassy hooker Marcy, another of the so-called “dogs”, while Mark Simpson takes on a number of very different roles with chameleon ease.

Dogfight portrays abhorrent macho behaviour, which the writers neither condone nor judge, but they make it clear that this is the culture that the young marines have grown up in and been shaped by: a culture, which dehumanises women as much as the enemy they are off to fight, but also knocks the soul out of the young men themselves.

When the musical played in London last year, some slammed it for its ugly misogyny, but the writers undercut this with the central love story, which is sweet, sad and genuinely moving. Our sympathies, meanwhile, are clearly with the women in the show, who are strong, funny and forgiving.

This production captures all that nuance most touchingly. Once again, the Hayes Theatre proves to be a leading light in Sydney’s musical theatre scene.

Dogfight plays at the Hayes Theatre Co until May 31. Bookings: www.hayestheatre.com.au or 02 8065 7337

A version of this review ran in the Sunday Telegraph on May 10

Anh Do interview

Anh Do in his studio. Photo: Eamonn McLoughlin

Anh Do in his studio with two of the portraits in his first solo exhibition Man. Photo: Eamonn McLoughlin

When the finalists for last year’s Archibald Prize were announced, many were surprised to see that comedian Anh Do was represented with a portrait of his father.

Do himself was utterly thrilled: “Just to walk into the Art Gallery of NSW and see what was sitting in your garage a few weeks earlier hanging up there was wonderful,” he says.

“The woman who hung the exhibition said, ‘I hope you like the spot, Anh.’ I said, ‘I’m just so thankful. I’d be happy to be hung anywhere in the Archibald. I’d take cubicle three of the men’s.”

It was no flash in the pan either. Do won the 2014 Kogarah Art Prize with another portrait and currently has his first solo exhibition at Olsen Irwin in Woollahra, one of Sydney’s leading commercial art galleries.

Do famously arrived in Australia at age three as a refugee when his family fled strife-torn Vietnam in a leaky boat. Drawing on his life story in his stand-up shows, he has become one of Australia’s best-loved comedians, filling venues and popping up on TV programs such as Thank God You’re Here and Dancing With the Stars on which he was the runner-up in 2007.

Russell Crowe is going to direct a film based on Do’s award-winning autobiography The Happiest Refugee for which Do has been working on the screenplay and will play his own father.

Anh Do's portrait of his father. Photo: Eamonn McLoughlin

Anh Do’s portrait of his father. Photo: Eamonn McLoughlin

In between all that, he now spends much of his time painting in a large garage at his home on the Illawarra coast where he lives with his wife Suzie and their four children.

The solitary hours spent applying thick oils to canvas suits his temperament.

“People who know me will tell you that I’m more of an introvert than people think. Actually, a lot of comedians are and it surprises people,” he says, chatting at his home with its view of the ocean.

“I love being on stage and connecting with 2000 people but you don’t really see me that often at the Logies and all that red carpet stuff. I’d rather just have dinner with my wife and kids.”

Do has always loved art but has come to it relatively late – partly because his father, who was an alcoholic, walked out on the family when Do was 13. He didn’t see his father again until he was 21, though they are now very close.

“As a kid I loved art, loved it,” he says. “But somewhere along the line in school I stopped taking art classes because people told me if you want to get high marks in the school certificate don’t do art.

“My mum raised three kids on her own on sweatshop wages of about six bucks an hour so there was a lot of late rent and landlords knocking on the door,” recalls Do.

“When I was about 10 I remember thinking, ‘one day I’m going to buy a big house we can all live in together and we’ll never have to be hassled by landlords again’. So I went to school and asked around and said, ‘guys what’s the job that pays the most money?’ and someone said, ‘lawyers get loads’ and so I thought ‘that’s what I’m going to be’.”

Do got into Law at university. “But I couldn’t help myself. I signed up to study art at TAFE simultaneously. You can’t really do both so I ended up skipping all the law classes because they were really boring and going to all the art classes. Then, of course, comedy came along and wiped both out,” he says.

“But about four or five years ago, a comedian mate called Dave Grant passed away and a cousin of mine passed away in his late 20s. I always thought I’d paint one day after I retire, buts something made me go, ‘you know what, I’ve got to do it now’. So I went back to TAFE.”

One of the portraits in Anh Do's solo exhibition Man. Photo: Eamonn McLoughlin

One of the portraits in Anh Do’s solo exhibition Man. Photo: Eamonn McLoughlin

His solo show, entitled Man, features a series of portraits, many of them with a haunting gaze similar to that of his father in his Archibald painting.

“These guys that I’ve painted, they’re lived a full life and they’ve had their ups and downs and it shows in their eyes. That’s what interests me,” says Do.

“A lot of being a comedian is about observing people. When I’m on stage I look at people in the audience. It might be 2000 people in the State Theatre but I’ll look at a few people and make eye contact with them. It’s an incredibly powerful connection for two people who have never really met properly.

“I’m interested in everything about people. Not just, ‘what do you do for a living?’ but I want to know about their fears and their sadnesses and listen to their regrets and all of that, both sides of it, the happy and the sad. A lot of my work is driven by what makes people human.

“Years ago my comedy used to just be funny gags strung together with dodgy segues but recently I’ve been delving into my childhood so some stories make people laugh and other make people cry. My comedy shows these days are so much richer for the fact that there’s laughter and tears in the audience.”

Anh Do's portrait of comedian Dave Hughes. Photo: Eaonn McLoughlin

Anh Do’s portrait of comedian Dave Hughes. Photo: Eaonn McLoughlin

Do credits fellow comedian Dave Hughes with encouraging him to draw on his own experience.

“A couple of years ago me and Hughesy had just finished filming Thank God You’re Here. We were just hanging out and I started telling him real life stories and he goes, ‘mate, this stuff is fascinating, you should tell it on stage,” recalls Do.

“I said to Hughesy, ‘I want to make people laugh not cry’ and he said, ‘Anh, make ‘em laugh and cry.’ That’s probably why I started mixing in all that real life story so I have Hughesy to thank for my show becoming richer and deeper.”

Hughes was one of the first people Do painted. He entered the portrait into the Swan Portrait Prize in Perth and was selected as a finalist.

Do says that now that he paints regularly, he notices things he never did before.

“I used to look at a rusty old tap and it’s just a rusty old tap but now I see 15 shades of brown and orange and there’s even a lot of green and a couple of shades of purple. Before, it was a rusty old tap, now it’s a beautiful array of colour. These days, I can tell you the eye colours of most of my good friends. Before that I’d be stumped.”

Do has been performing his comedy show The Happiest Refugee Live for three years now but there is so much demand for it that he will take it on another national tour in May and June.

“It’s not just stand-up. There are videos and pictures and props on stage. It’s almost a theatre show,” he says.

It’s certainly an inspiring story – as is Do’s positive outlook on life.

“When we were at sea (en route to Australia) we ran out of food and water and we could easily have died,” he says. “My mum always taught us as kids that we are lucky just to be alive so you may as well make your life worth something, throw something into the hat and contribute.”

Do’s exhibition Man runs at Olsen Irwin Gallery in Woollahra, Sydney until May 10

A version of this story ran in the Sunday Telegraph on April 19

Josh Pyke makes his orchestral debut: interview

Performing live with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra is a dream come true for Australian indie musician Josh Pyke.

Josh Pyke. Photo: supplied

Josh Pyke. Photo: supplied

“Hearing intimate music that’s been played out in your head in your bedroom, with a vast orchestral sound behind it is something that’s been a dream of mine for a long time – well before I had any reason to think that it might happen.

“I’m extremely excited and very nervous as well. I think it’s going to be a pretty wild experience for me,” says the ARIA Award-winning singer-songwriter.

Pyke selected the songs with input from his fans: “I posted something on Facebook and said, ‘what would you like to hear?’

“We did a poll and I was really pleased to see that some of the most popular ones were actually B-sides and album tracks, they weren’t necessarily the singles. That was kind of what I was hoping. I didn’t want to just do Make You Happy and Middle of the Hill. I love those songs but in an orchestral context I was wanting to push the limits of the audience as well as the songs,” says Pyke.

“There are some singles but there are also some glaring omissions. Make You Happy isn’t there or No One Wants a Lover: those songs, which were more like big pop songs. I’m sure there would have been a way to make them work but I wanted to hear songs like Fill You In, which is one of my favourite tracks, definitely one I feel emotionally connected to.”

The SSO commissioned 10 emerging composers from across Australia to orchestrate the music, with Pyke discussing each song with them but giving them a free rein to interpret the material pretty much as they wanted.

The Lighthouse Song, which is quite a laid-back folk song, has taken on a slightly more Sufjan Stevens, joyous feel, which is interesting. Memories & Dust, which is kind of upbeat on the record, has taken on a more melancholy vibe,” he says.

“I really subscribe to the idea that a recorded version of a song is just a specific moment in time. After years and years of playing the songs live, they take on a different life. And I don’t listen to my records. The version of my own songs that I have in my head is actually pretty different to the recorded version.

“When I play them live with the band they take on a life of their own and when I play them solo they change dramatically so I really wanted the arrangers and composers to take their own kind of attitude towards it. The songs are a framework; not necessarily something rigid.”

Perth-based composer Lachlan Skipworth was excited to be offered the opportunity to orchestrate Leeward Side for the concert.

“I love his music. For me, I wanted to be faithful to the original song,” says Skipworth.

“It’s got this relentless rhythm that keeps driving forward through the whole song. At the same time, it’s a quietly melancholy song. I took a model from Ravel’s Bolero, (which) is kind of the same thing.

“I have underpinned the song with two snare drums – except for one bit where Josh and I decided to make a change from the recorded version and slow it down.”

“It’s been a really interesting process,” says Pyke. “Some of the songs have remained fairly faithful to the original and some of them have diverged pretty dramatically. But I feel like every arrangement has served the song.”

Josh Pyke Live with the SSO, SOH, April 29 & 30. Bookings:www.sydneyoperahouse.com or 02 9250 7777

A version of this story ran in the Sunday Telegraph on April 19

 

The Rocky Horror Show

Lyric Theatre, April 15

Amy Lehpamer, Stephen Mahy and Craig McLachlan. Photo: Brian Geach

Amy Lehpamer, Stephen Mahy and Craig McLachlan. Photo: Brian Geach

It was great when it all began….. The Rocky Horror Show started life as a small, gritty production whose outrageous parody of 1940s to 1970s B-grade sci-fi and horror films felt genuinely subversive, shocking and theatrically groundbreaking.

Australian director Jim Sharman and designer Brian Thomson had a great deal of input in helping Richard O’Brien (who wrote book, music and lyrics) create the aesthetic. They were also instrumental in expanding, developing and guiding the show from an experimental production Upstairs at London’s Royal Court Theatre in 1973 to the Chelsea Classic Cinema on the Kings Road and from there to world, taking it to the screen too as The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Over the years, the musical has become lighter, brighter and tamer: an anodyne parody of itself. These days it’s called Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show and so much of the edgy strangeness that made it a cult in the first place has been lost along the way.

While it is never going to shock in the way that it originally did, I’m sure there is a stripped-back, darker, dirtier, sexier production, closer to its roots, just longing to do the timewarp in Australia. Gale Edwards tried in 2008 with a (fairly glossy) production starring iOTA, but though it had a lot of going for it, it still didn’t manage to capture the danger of the original. (Apparently O’Brien and the British producers disliked some of what she had done and insisted on last minute changes).

For this 40th anniversary production, which originated as a UK tour, Christopher Luscombe directs one of the loudest, most colourful, glib productions yet. Gliding across the surface of the show, it’s a cartoon-like, bubblegum, party version verging on pantomime.

Hugh Durrant has designed a flexible set framed by rolls of film. The bottom right corner of the ruched front curtain is slightly torn, but that’s about it for any kind of grubbiness. Instead, the perky aesthetic is established right up front with a cartoon car for Brad and Janet and a cartoon castle, with comical Phantoms poking their heads out from behind it. There’s a fairly opulent interior for “the Frankenstein place” and some sci-fi looking gizmos for the science lab.

Sue Blane has reworked her original costumes to make them brighter, cleaner and sparklier, which work well within the world created.

The cast of Rocky Horror. Photo: Brian Geach

The cast of Rocky Horror. Photo: Brian Geach

Craig McLachlan is a forceful presence as Frank-N-Furter, a role for which he first donned the fishnets in 1992 – but not in the way Frank should be. He goes for broke, strutting his stuff to the max but all too often his shameless mugging goes a step too far.

He frequently breaks the fourth wall. Most Frank-N-Furthers interact with the audience but not to the degree that McLachlan does. So many of his winks, leers and suggestive gestures are overdone that it becomes hammy and his comical antics during the seduction of Brad and Janet are plain tacky.

Frank should be irresistibly sexy, crazed and dangerous. McLachlan’s Frank is none of these things. Instead he plays the role for laughs.

As the squeaky clean Brad and Janet, Amy Lehpamer and Stephen Mahy give nicely centred performances that help keep things real amid the frenzy. Lehpamer’s Janet evolves dramatically and vocally over the course of the show, to match the character’s growth, and both sing strongly.

Angelique Cassimatis is a spunky dynamo as Columbia, shining in the role. Jayde Westaby gets the show off to a great start as the usherette, Kristian Lavercombe brings a soaring rock voice to a rather manic Riff Raff, and Bert Newton as the Narrator is, well, Bert Newton.

The production has little heart or teeth, and if you didn’t know the story – such as it is – some of it could well be lost in the frenetic carry-on, with the ending coming somewhat out of nowhere. Nonetheless, the show has been selling out around the country and many in the Sydney opening night audience embraced as it as pure fun. It is fun  – but there is so much more to Rocky Horror than that.

The Rocky Horror Show plays at the Lyric Theatre until June 7. Bookings: www.ticketmaster.com.au or 136 100

A version of this review ran in the Sunday Telegraph on April 19