Friday, March 22, 2013



By Gai Anderson

Huonville Town Hall
As part of Ten Days on the Island , 2013

sprag [spræg]

n. 1) a young man 2) a young cod 3) a wooden prop to support the roof of a mine.
 sprag unit auto part with several rotating sprags that lock to provide traction.
 adj. 1) quick and lively (Shakespeare) 2) of sprag mind: one’s thought process in constant cognitive motion creating a distracted and wavering personality.

I don’t know what I expected of SPRAG SESSION on Monday night at Huonville, but as these young energetic musicians from Cape Breton stepped onto stage and played those first electrifying notes I knew that I was in for something really special.

As if dropped in from another place in the midst of full musical flight, their toe tapping wild energy expanded instantly to fill the room with an intoxicating and multilayered mix of Celtic traditions with twists of funk and rock.

For these five smiling young men are no ordinary Celtic band, but one that layers upon the reels and jigs and Breton dances with their unique and inspired arrangements to create thoughtful original “toons”. Their music is infectious.

The ever-smiling sprite that is the toe-tapping frontman Colin Grant, has gathered a group of amazing musicians around him to create Sprag Session, bringing together a traditional trio in combination with a blues, funk rhythm section . Combining virtuosic mandolin, guitar, banjo, drums, wild thumping piano and the ever soaring fiddle of Grant himself, Sprag Session created a dynamic range of grooves, beats and melodies, which occasionally slowed for soulful moments of great beauty.

Grant is also a great story teller whose impish enthusiasm to connect with the audience and comic chatter between the sweat-inducing tunes were delightful. His comic stories of the people from the community they live in had a great generosity about it and a great familiarity. In fact the photo of the lads on the Ten Days program, sitting in the park with the ducks, could be of a bunch of local boys taken in Huonville.

And that’s a bit how the whole night felt, like we had known these boys forever and they were  playing to their home crowd. Except we were definitely not all up and dancing as we much as they would have been at home when these boys were “driving the ceilidih bus”.
But it was a Monday night in Huonville.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Select (The Sun Also Rises)

Based on the novel by Ernest Hemingway 
By Elevator Repair Service

By Lucy Wilson

It’s rare to experience theatre these days with a cast of ten and a running time of over three hours. It’s also rare for a New York Theatre Company to stage an Ernest Hemingway novel in Hobart. Rumoured as the headline show for this Ten Days on the Island Festival, the award-winning company, Elevator Repair Service, staged The Select (The Sun Also Rises). It’s a semi-autobiographical 1920’s novel about the lost generation of post-war Brits and Americans spending decadent alcohol drenched days in Parisian cafes and visiting a famous bull fighting festival in Spain.

The Select (The Sun Also Rises)

Elevator Repair Service
Presented as part of Ten Days on the Island 
Theatre Royal

I have been enjoying rereading Ernest Hemingway lately, so I was thrilled to see ‘The Select’, a stage adaption of The Sun Also Rises, appear on the Theatre Royal programme as part of Ten Days on the Island. It never occurred to me how hard it would be to stage; for me the book was all about the internal workings of the characters’ heads. And drinking. I remember feeling like I had a hangover if I read the book before going to sleep at night, as if I too had imbibed all that champagne, and the alcohol had seeped through the pages into my bloodstream.

Well, the New York-based Elevator Repair Service (ERS) have artfully adapted the book into a play. They  have captured that feeling of self-indulgent idleness and of characters with all the time and liberty in the world to drink and wallow in their own shallowness.

If ever a writer owned a classic aptonym it must be dear Mr Hemingway because, like his name, his writing is exceedingly earnest, and this book is no exception. I wonder what he would have made of the slapstick humour in this adaption, and the manner in which his characters became caricatures. I hope he would have approved. Hemingway made so many unmercifully caustic observations of human nature, so it was a relief to enjoy these observations as satire as well as social comment. And the delivery was no less powerful for the change.

The ERS company was bold and true in not shying away from the revoltingly anti-Semitic nature of Hemingway’s dialogue. Robert Cohn's character was irksome and pathetic, but his Jewishness was neither here nor there. If it had have been written out of the play, it would not have detracted from the story, and this may have been the sensitive thing to do. The play was set and written in the heady days in Europe between two world wars and its main characters, especially Jake, were damaged by the first of those wars. Hemingway had been scarred by his wartime experiences too, so it was galling to hear the openly normalised prejudice against Cohn. We in the audience had the benefit of knowing what horrors the Second World War had yet to unleash on Jewish people, and this heightened my discomfort in quite liking the largely unlikeable people.

The production was impeccable and captivating and the sound was inspired and cheeky. To have two lead actors double as Foley artists on stage showed the company respected the maturity of the audience enough to have fun with them, not just serve it up to them. The set was sparse and sophisticated – I love a set that has little fussing around and I have never seen so many uses for a trestle table! They managed to cram a whole fiesta, a bull fighting arena and many streets of Paris cafes onto one modest stage.

The soundtrack was a melange of vintage Paris jazz and contemporary funky New York hip-hop which allowed the racy choreography to take over the narrative from the dialogue. The story kept flowing seamlessly.

And the cast just nailed it. Every single actor on stage was sexy and speedy and authentic. Brave and brilliant. (It must have had an effect on me because I seem to using a lot of short, assertive sentences!)

The final scenes were awkward, but I also remember feeling that way about the book. How else could Hemingway wrap up his story after the carnage to the psyche wrought by excessive drinking, utter directionless, cruel friends and dysfunctional relationships? It was never going to be a happy ending. But it was a dammed fine production chaps.

By Stephenie Cahalan

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


By Gai Anderson

Terrapin Puppet Theatre and the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra.
Seen as part of Ten Days on the Island Festival, 2013.
The Recital Hall, Tasmanian Conservatorium of Music, Hobart .

Theatre at its best is transportative – it takes you to places outside your self – where you suspend your disbelief and begin to take part in the alchemy that is happening before you on stage.
Some time its the trickery and spectacle that does this, sometimes it’s the quirky humor, the depth of story, the uplifting beauty of the music, the emotional life of the characters, the simplicity and wisdom of the message. But sometimes you are privileged enough to witness a show that does all those things and more.

Shadow Dreams is a technical and artistic triumph by any standards - a superbly crafted, simple, heart-felt story, beautifully told, of two boys who begin to dream each other’s dreams. It is a colaboration between Terrapin Puppet Theatre and the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, performing the very beautiful uplifting music of Graeme Koehn live.

The show is staged simultaneously in two theatres at the two ends of the state using broadband to stream the live orchestra and vision.

So on the stage in Hobart I could see a screen divided in half, before which the story of Peter, a suburban white boy living with his Mum and gran is enacted live.
On the other half of the screen is the Aboriginal boy Dale with his father and sister in their house on a farm near Launceston. This was a projection streaming live from the Launceston stage, where they were performing.

But that’s not all, the trickery went much further than this as layers of animation, detailed landscape captured in stunning painted backdrops and atmospheric shadow puppetry and other live puppetry elements were layered to continuously transform the visual story with incredible beauty.

There was an awful lot going on on-stage sometimes, which may have been easier to take in in a larger theatre. But that didn’t stop me from being totally engaged from start to finish with the beauty and significance of the story.

The boys themselves were a delight, played by actors Kai Resbeck and first time Aboriginal performer Nathan Maynard. As we watched their days at school and at home we met two funny characters with the quirky details of their lives, and where they live, of Bridgewater Jerry, Seven Mile Beach and Dove lake.

But this story is not just about the boys – it’s a story about the wisdom of the generations who have been here before and the shared dreaming for a communal future. For what they dream together is not just any story, but the Palawa story of the creation of Tasmania and its sacred landscapes.

Eventually it led them to each other when they met with the families at Dove Lake, and amongst the elders and the wisdom of culture, they ran and laughed together, dreaming of that communal future.

This is a very important story; a moment of reconciliation, albeit on stage. It is certainly the first time I have seen the reenactment of the Palawa story in such a public forum and it brought a tear to my eyes. Let’s hope every Tasmanian gets to see this show in all its heart felt beauty.

Thanks to the generosity of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Community, to the ever inspiring talents of Frank Newman and Finegan Kruckemeyer and to the huge caste and crew of Terrapin who worked together to make this incredible show happen.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Luminous Flux

Earl Arts Centre
Ten Days on the Island

 By Wendy Newton


It's not a very lyrical word and it certainly doesn't testify to any level of sophistication in reviewing dance, but I couldn't stop saying it after watching Tasdance's performance of Luminous Flux as part of Ten Days on the Island. 


Luminous Flux is a diptych in contemporary dance with two exceptional works by choreographers Tanja Liedtke and Byron Perry that play with the abstract and physical territory of light.  Both show what can be done with a small black stage, some basic lighting and minimal costuming when the artistic and choreographic vision is strong and the dance talent extreme. 

Enter Twilight by Tanja Liedtke might be a remount from Tasdance's 2004 season Light and Shade, but the performance by Sarah Fiddaman, Brianna Kell, Jenni Large and Timothy Walsh is fresh and as brilliant as the lights they perform with.  In a world that is so often 'black and white', Liedtke's work explores the ambiguity and tension between the opposites: of light and dark, of good and evil.  Is the dark an absence of light, or a creature all of its own making?

There's something otherworldly about this work.  Three female dancers dressed in primly-collared and homogenously styled dresses of aqua, purple and red take turns in teasing and coercing a male dancer into a mysterious alliance.  Controlled doll-like movements manage to be jerky yet beautifully languid, as bodies use each other for momentum and energy. It's a shock-wave of touch and tangled connection as couples impact and move with and against each other; first liquid and slow as if underwater, and then tumbling in a kaleidoscope of dance.  But there's tension in the flirtatious symmetry and nuanced interactions.  Are they part of the spectrum of light or a force for the dark?

The lo-fi electronic musical score by DJ Trip offers an ambient rhythmic pulse to underscore the mood.  It is as soothing and repetitive as a heartbeat; static scratches like old vinyls on a turntable, a piano chimes like a clock, and it feels unearthly yet remembered.  Spotlights are used to create light paving, shadows on the dancers, shapes on benches. The benches become props for some of the most startling work, as the seated dancers glide along them like automaton cogs in a predestined assembly-line.  It is an intimate world bounded by the juxtaposition of what is seen and what is not seen, through the luminosity of white light bordering a stylistic performance that blurs the lines between purity and vice, and the clichés we assume of them.

The second work is not light entertainment, despite the name.  Light Entertainment is a highly original and sophisticated abstract work by choreographer Byron Perry that demands engagement - whether you're prepared for it or not.

With an improvised first half and highly structured second half, Light Entertainment goes from one end of the spectrum to the other.  The first half is playful, humorous and blatantly repetitive, as the performers, including the addition of Dean Cross, engage in an organic emergence into the physical territory of light.  Set against an eclectic musical score that runs from the opening 1970s pop 'commercial', to classical and country, performers take their cue from each other as children might: there's laughter, crying, orgasmic sighing, and it draws in the audience with the simplicity that's performed within the glare of harsh fluorescent light.

It's in the immersive second half that this work really shines.  Performers manipulate the light, the set, each other, us, with fluorescent lights and hand-held torches that leave us alternatively in the light, in the dark.  Body parts are highlighted and hidden, dancers become a tool, a ploy, a stage, to explore the science of light.  Light is white no more; spectral colours sweep the room like dancers as our eyes try to adjust to the blink of light.  The dancers are playing with us as much as playing with the light; our eyes can't help but participate in the creative deception.  A thumping techno-tribal beat draws us, willing or not, into a near-mystical hypnosis of dance that literally gave me chills up my spine. 

Luminous Flux is as incandescent as its title and confirms there's much more to Tasdance than could ever meet the eye. 

Monday, March 18, 2013


By Gai Anderson

Erth Visual & Physical Inc.
Hobarts Playhouse Theatre
As part of Ten Days on the Island 2013

Puppetry can be so powerful in so many ways on stage; can potentially go so much further visually and psychologically than the real human body on stage. And of course puppets offer so much potential for exploring human darkness, as they can actually be injured, tortured, and murdered right there in front of us in graphic detail.

MURDER begins with a slightly haunted domestic scene in cold, night light, with the words – How shall I kill thee? Let me count the ways.

Its meaty premise is the exploration of our relationship to murder. Is our modern fascination with murder via pornographic-real-crime TV, for example, any different to the impulse that drove the crowds to witness mass murder at the coliseum?

With the Murder Ballads of the Nick Cave as a backdrop to this investigation, MURDER begins strongly. The visuals and songs sit well together, as the chilling domestic scene of the live male-protagonist is filled with a cast of puppet ghouls and characters; a table of insipid-skinned dolls momentarily come to life; a gaggle of sinister nasty teethed caricatures appear from suitcases to laugh and cavort and faceless human sized bunraku puppets are brought to life by a chorus of black masked puppeteers who are chilling in their own not-hereness. The spinning bed, the shadow forest scenes, all beautifully realized, come together as inhabitants of the disturbing and fearful inner reality of the protagonist.

This is the stuff of all our horror movie and murder show imaginings, but the direct story telling of the actor is also strong and powerful here, his emotional landscape clear and chilling, as we begin to watch his slow slip into the land of murder.

There are some exceptionally provocative visual moments, which I found electrifying, such as the actor's huge, sinister sausage fingers, disembodied via video, placing story cuts-outs in the clay. In my mind this became both a clinical murder reenactment and a murderer late at night burying a dead body in the earth. Another was the unexpected appearance of his faceless puppet lover appearing from the fridge…and there were many more .

Where the narrative is strong it worked well – the beginnings of the chat room sequences with its video and typing, and the story of the broken down car and narrow escape is powerful stuff.

But at some point MURDER lost its way, and no matter how many clever visual ideas or glimpses of incredible puppets and puppetry are seen, they inevitably become a distraction as the thrust of story lost its focus and power. Even the Murder ballads disappeared mysteriously until a quick reprise at the very end.

MURDER promised so much.Our human relationship to death in all its forms is really important and rich and I felt really cheated by the dribbling away of the great momentum and profound investigation it had developed.

But complex story telling with puppetry is not easy and it is not the first time I have been disappointed in such a way. Sometimes it seems as if the enthralment of the makers with their endless wonderful visuals is hard to resist.
I would have liked less with a greater depth of engagement .
I do hope all the wonderful puppets get to have a larger life somewhere in the future.