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Geoff conjures women in a magic performance

Jake’s Women directed by Peter Jukes for Geelong Repertory Theatre Company. Woodbin Theatre, February 2, 2018

Creating this play would have been therapeutic for its author, Neil Simon. Written in the 1990s, when his rocky marriage to Diane Lander was floundering, the play’s theme of an author’s turmoil as his marriage slowly deteriorated is a thinly-disguised autobiographical piece. 
But it’s by the Neil Simon, the man behind The Odd Couple and so many other clever, deftly-observed sparklingly-funny insights into modern behaviour. So this play is a long way from a fraught tale of a broken partnership.
It’s a tightly-written, fast-paced funny/moving tale of a man who has the ability to conjure up selected images of the women in his life and hold conversations with them, sometimes alone, sometimes in multiples, every one revealing the hurt and humour of that transition in all its desperate detail.

For this Rep production, director Peter Jukes created a clever set symbolising the fractured nature of the dialogue while enabling the central character, Jake, to instantly, magically,  conjure up his women.

This gave the play a film-like quality, with the action uninterrupted by scene changes.
And it put huge pressure on Geoff Gaskill, playing Jake, who was on stage throughout the entire play delivering Simon’s super-fast caustic/perceptive Jewish New York dialogue - this time encompassing his own thinking process garnished with wit and occasional anguish.
Geoff did this superbly in a theatrical tour-de-force of rare skill.  He gave Jake depth and perception in near-flawless performance of intensity, nuance and power.
This was matched, and occasionally surpassed, by Tina Rettke’s portrayal of Maggie, his second and soon to be ex- wife.
Tina was at times empathetic and sympathetic, independent, vulnerable and strong - in turn, in place and sometimes all at once - in a beautifully sensitive portrayal of human emotions.
This pair was supported by a well-cast and word-perfect company of manipulated and manipulating women. Some were imaginary, some real and all were engaging in their own way. These were led by Claudia Clark’s quirky sister Karen and Melinda Hughes wisecracking awkward analyst Edith, along with (real-life) sisters Hannah and Jess Senftleben who carefully and perceptively played Jake’s supportive daughter Molly at different ages.
In the difficult part of first-wife Julie, who had died in a car accident, Lauren Atkin ably moved from confusion to manipulation to accomplishment, while  Bernadette Byrne made an excellent job as Jake’s real-life real-time girlfriend Sheila, bewildered to be caught up in all of his character confusion.

As a piece of theatre, Rep’s Jake’s Women was excellent.
It appeared undated and timeless - mainly because of its universal theme and the fine quality of its writing. But mostly it offered the chance to experience an extraordinarily intense piece of acting from Geoff Gaskill who understandably appeared wrung out and exhausted when taking his long and appreciative final applause.
Go see Jake’s Women, it’s highly recommended.
Rep’s first play for the year is outstanding for its writing, its subject matter - and it’s careful, well-thought-out staging.
And most certainly for Geoff Gaskill’s remarkable performance. 

  1. -Colin Mockett

Footlight’s impeccably staged, doubly  fabulous B & B 

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast directed by Alister Smith for Footlight Productions. Playhouse Theatre, January 20, 2018

This production was fabulous in its original as well as modern contexts.
It’s storyline was based on a fable, while Footlight’s theatrical presentation was as professional, slick and spectacular as any found on Melbourne’s stages.
But first, a qualification. 
Beauty and the Beast is based on a 16th Century French fairy story, retold with Disney’s Hollywood principles.
From a 21st Century perspective, and especially in light of the present moral climate, it’s about as politically incorrect as it can get. It has themes that begin with a male refusal to accept a woman’s ‘no’ answer, to include bullying and stalking, to false imprisonment and even murder - all eventually nullified by Disney’s saccharin ‘love conquers all, so everything’s happy ever after’ gloss.
Director Alister Smith went some way to qualify all this by using a remarkable opening scene where a small child (Mitchell Jeffreys) discovered a toy which unfolded the fable to the revelation of everyone on stage.
It not only set the scene for the audience to suspend its disbeliefs, but it also foreshadowed what was to come - a show with immaculate and well-thought out-production values.

This Beauty and the Beast was wonderful both to see and to experience.

Its costumes and wigs were literally fantastic. Its lighting effects were spectacular, its choreography crisp and precise, its direction smooth and logical, its music faultless.

The big production numbers drew inspiration from Busby Berkeley to Alice’s Wonderland to Les Mis to Follies’ Can Can and more - all were seamlessly integrated and delivered with panache.
And the cast, too, was impossible to fault. They not only looked correct, they sang, acted and moved impeccably. Even the sound was error-free.
In the lead role of Belle, Nicole Kaminski was on top of every one of her range of situations; whether fending off unwanted suitor Gaston’s advances, or caring for her eccentric father, or facing down the beast’s anger and even finally changing him through love. 
The unlovely suitor Gaston, in the hands of Vaughn Rae, came across as an over-the-top musical version of the IT Crowd’s  Douglas Reynholm; while Belle’s  odd inventor father Maurice was played with quirky charm by Brendan Rossbotham.  In the unsympathetic part of The Beast, Joshua McGuane managed his awkward switch from unprovoked anger to confusion to outright fawning without losing too much credibility - and he displayed a great singing voice despite a faceful of fur and make-up.

Behind these leads, the show seemed to have eye-catching performances everywhere, from Adam Porter’s delightful candelabra Lumiere and Jamie McGuane’s talking (and singing) clock Cogsworth; from Greg Shawcross’s agile sidekick Maurice to a trio of undisciplined Silly Girl groupies in Rosie Byth, Cassie Chappell and Casey Reid. From Emma Clair Ford’s eloquent teapot and  Hayley Wood’s non-wooden dresser, from Liam Ryder’s sinister white-blonde villain Monsieur D'Arque - and most especially from Hannah Pohlenz’s delightfully coquettish scene-stealer Babbette.

The ensemble, too, kept that almost impossible impeccable standard throughout, whenever presenting medieval townspeople, savage forest creatures, cheery can-can dancers, an unruly mob and more. So take a bow, Ashley Boyd, Andrew Coomber, Tara Dunstan, Jana Gousmett, Steve Horman, Joel Lewis, Katie Loxston, Madelyn Ludbrook, Alysia Macleod, Charlie McIntyre, Ally Miller, India Ney, Aidan O'Cleirigh, Amanda Paris, Liam Ryder, David Van Etten, Joshua Vucicevic and Amy Whitfield.
That initial small child scene-setter, Mitchell Jeffreys, returned frequently as a perky perambulated chipped cup. On alternate occasions, this refreshing part was played by Kempton Maloney.

In all, this Footlight Beauty and the Beast was an exceptional piece of musical theatre.
It’s highly recommended as a fine example of the heights and professionalism that Geelong’s musical theatre can stage.

  1. -Colin Mockett

Geelong’s Big, Heartwarming Showcase Concert  still surprises

The Geelong Summer Music Camp’s Showcase Concert. Costa Hall, January 19, 2018

This was the 38th Geelong Summer Music Camp. It had 212 participants aged between nine and 20 who had received an intense week of musical tuition from six conductors and 25 specialist tutors.
Over the years we Geelong concertgoers have become accustomed to the  excellence of their end-of-camp Costa Hall ‘Showcase’ performance. It’s an event that has won a reputation, not only as Geelong’s first and biggest annual music concert, but also as the most surprising, most heartwarming and most gratifying.
Surprising because of the sheer amount of musical knowledge and ensemble-playing skills that could be absorbed by the young players in just five days of intensive study.
Heartwarming because those young musicians displayed such respect for their new abilities and high regard for the discipline of presenting them.
And gratifying because we’re seeing hard evidence that the love of music in our educators is being gratefully and graciously accepted by the next generation.

Alongside this, every GSMC concert throws up new delights and surprises.
That was certainly the case with the 2018 event.
It had begun conventionally enough, with the 21-piece Dave Jeffery Stage Band delivering a pair of modern jazz numbers in crisp, slick style under their conductor David Gardner, followed by the Fiona Gardner Concert Band - the camp’s junior wind ensemble conducted by Sue Arney - making a fine job of three well-known but very different pieces, with two film themes Raiders of the Lost Ark and Pirates of the Caribbean bracketing three movements from Dvorak’s New World suite.

Then followed the Heather Tetaz  (junior) string ensemble with their conductor Martin DeMarte and another three very different pieces, Dance of the Tumblers, The Skye Boat Song and Conquistador  all delightfully presented.
The evening’s compere, James Hunt, linked each segment with  some unusual  and sometimes unintended humour, warily approaching each conductor-provided introduction as a potential pronunciation minefield.
He had fun with the first of the big ensembles, the 62-member Harry Hood Concert Band, whose conductor, Sean Rankin, had provided some tongue-twisting explanations for his musical selections. These were the silky Blue And Green Music followed by a happy calypso Caribbean Hideaway, then a part-vocal and chime-ringing Ave Maria and finished with a smooth big-band Ocean Ridge Rhapsody.
The Camp’s choir, Eileen Martin Singers, with their conductor Ryan Bentley  contributed four excellent songs, all delivered without music books, starting with a clear and melodic version of Enya’s Orinoco Flow, then the appropriately-titled Peaceful Things with alternating soloists, a Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride accompanied by percussion and ukulele  and finishing with the theme song from The Color Purple.

But then came a revelation, when the next ensemble, the 60+ strong Wendy Galloway Strings - the camp’s senior string orchestra - delivered three pieces with a capability and competence that would surely have made them the envy of many senior orchestras. Stylish conductor Ingrid Martin and her players presented Grieg’s Holberg Suite op 40 no 1 with such skill to bring the auditorium to pin-drop silence then long, sustained applause. This was followed by the equally well received themes from Titanic, and then a wonderfully evocative Argentine tango Libertango, delivered with a practic
ed elegance that belied the orchestra’s scant 5-day preparation.
Those strings were then augmented by wind and percussion players to become the Malcolm John Symphony, still conducted by Ms Martin, delivering several  views from Johan Strauss II’s Blue Danube before the camp’s now-familiar big all-on-stage big finale, a spirited and skilled version of La Mer (Somewhere Beyond The Sea) handsomely arranged by local musician Kym Dillon.

And following that final segment, and an encore,  a delighted Wendy Galloway, after whom the string orchestra was named, hurried backstage to congratulate conductor Ingrid. (pictured)
It was, Wendy said, ‘a thrilling performance with a fabulous conductor’.
Agreed. And I’d add that it was part of another wonderful Geelong experience.

- Colin Mockett