Photographer - Unsure, but looks like a theatre publicity shot. Happy to credit if I can find out the photographer.

Privates On Parade

“Meet the gang cos the boys are here, the boys to entertain you…” Nearly forty years after having first watched “It Ain’t Half Hot Mum”, the 1970s BBC sit-com, I can still remember and sing-a-long with the opening theme song.

Having spent most of my formative years just a few feet away from a 26″ Chrysler colour TV, it’s no surprise. Along with “It Ain’t Half Hot Mum”, there was a steady regular Friday night television diet courtesy of the ABC which included Dave Allen, The Two Ronnies and “The Trots”. And when I say “The Trots”, I mean trotting. Horses. Yes its true. Every Friday night, ABC TV in NSW (and probably elsewhere) used to regularly feature live coverage of trotting. They might have been done “The Dogs” also, though I don’t have that memory.

Yes it was a different world back then. Although it wasn’t evident to my young eyes, I’m sure if you looked closely at “It Ain’t Half Hot Mum” these days, there would be more than a hint of racism. I don’t think I will. But going to see “Privates On Parade” has re-ignited in me an interest in some of those BBC comedies of my youth.

The subject matter of “Privates On Parade” is similar to “It Ain’t Half Hot Mum”: both are based around the activities of a 1940s English Army Entertainment Troop. Although I’m sure the original play was the basis for the television show, the subject matter of the play is much darker, dealing openly with homosexuality (whereas it was only really hinted at in the TV show), and with death.

I thought the production by New Theatre (as part of Mardi Gras) was excellent. It’s a well written play (of course), though perhaps a little dated. so the company had good material to start with. While there could have been a propensity to ham things up a little, I thought the company did an excellent job in playing it straight, and allowing for the depth of the characters to show.

NBN Art

Totally Wired

“It’s a by-product of the NBN”, I was told by the woman running Lime Designs, an arts/crafts gift store at Salamanca Place. When I asked her what she was weaving the small basket with, she told me she had literally hundreds, if not thousands of kilometres of telephone wire at her home. The wire was one of the by-products of the roll-out of the National Broadband Network. As the wire was replaced by optic fibre, it was being discarded, and she was one of the eager people willing to make something with it.

Sue and I spent the day sight-seeing around Hobart, starting off looking at some of the galleries in the centre of Hobart, and having lunch at the Cascade Brewery, ahead of going on “Louisa’s Walk”, currently voted on Trip Advisor the best tourist attraction in Hobart. I think that assessment is probably a little over the top, as Hobart has much to offer, but it’s definitely pretty good.

Louisa's Walk

Louisa’s Walk

“Louisa’s Walk” takes the idea of the history walking tour up a notch. Instead of walking around Hobart and pointing at things and recounting facts about them in a fairly stock standard way, the tour takes the form of simple street theatre to recount the story of just one woman who came to Tasmania as a convict. As we chatted afterwards, the male actor told us it was the idea of his mother and her partner who were also semi-professional actors around Hobart who had the idea of creating some sustainable work for actors who would otherwise find it hard to make a living in a city of its size.

And why street theatre? One very obvious reason is there’s not a lot to see at the Female Factory, what was once home to up to 5,000 female convicts. Indeed, the historical records at the space document it was only recently the buildings were “restored”, having previously been used as goods yards, and even as a tennis court for a number of years. Unlike similar convict buildings here in Sydney, or even the male equivalent, Port Arthur in Tasmania, there’s really only the facade that remains.

After a return to our hotel for a little relaxation, we spent the evening at Sing A Long Sound of Music, an event organised by Tasmanian Gay & Lesbian Pride. As the name applies, we were all encouraged to sing a long and to interact the much-loved film. As both Sue and I love the film, it was a perfect way to finish up the day. Great songs, a terrific story, lots of laughter.

I Love Musicals

I Love Musicals

I Love Musicals

There was a moment of pure joy this morning at work when I noticed a package from Sweden in my in-tray. A few weeks ago on a whim I purchased t-shirt promoting the new album for Peter Jöback. Peter’s name is a little hard to find, being found only the sleeve of the t-shirt. Instead, the phrase “I Love Musicals” (the name of Peter’s latest album) dominates. When I bought the shirt, I joked with a friend “this could well be the world’s gayest t-shirt”. When a colleague snapped a photograph of my wearing the shirt today (which I shared on social media) she agreed. In fact, it gave everyone at work a bit of a laugh today. In the midst of some busy times, it was great to see people go from wry grins to broad smiles as they looked at the shirt and agreed.

Co-incidentally, I went to a preview tonight of the new Sydney musical, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels“. The musical is based on the Steve Martin film about the two conmen who are themselves conned. I haven’t actually seen the film, so I went in without preconceptions. In fact, I was even prepared to be a little disappointed, as really good musicals are often few and far between. Many modern musicals, often based around movies or back catalogues, are often disappointing. They can seem like a hastily assembled pastiche.

Even though I haven’t seen the film, I didn’t get that impression from this. My colleague and friend I went with, who has seen the film, whispered in my ear “He’s completely ape-ing Steve Martin”. That was the only comparison she made between the movie and the film. From both our perspectives, though, this was a fun musical, with really clever lyrics, performed well, with humour and passion. The play was great fun to watch, and it seemed as if the actors were enjoying it as much as the audience. That’s high praise, since there are some really great performers in the show, including Tony Sheldon, Ann Wood, Matt Hetherington (who I thought was fabulous), John Wood and others. Overall it was a really wonderful night, and fabulous reminder of why “I Love Musicals”.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

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Divas

In the midst of all the posters on Götgatan (the main street of Södermalm) promoting concerts, festivals, comedy nights, and dance clubs, there was one I saw the other week which really stood out. In contrast to the all the other posters which were very “busy”, this poster portrayed a single image of twenty-something woman (a woman living with a disability) dressed beautifully and holding flowers.

As I was heading off to Turkey in a day or two, I didn’t have the time or attention to find out more, and so I snapped and image and made a mental note to re-visit this.

In my post-Turkey days back in Stockholm, I was determined to find out more about the exhibition. A bit of Google-ing revealed the poster was there to promote an exhibition of photographs by Stefan Bremer currently showing at the Finnish Institute in Stockholm>

The associated publicity explains…

Duva/Diva is a photographic collection created by DuvTeatern in co-operation with photographer Stefan Bremer, Blue Flamenco School of Dance, costume designer Paula Varis and graphic designer Maria Appelgren. The photographs are inspired by the beauty and glamour of the world of the opera, the proud and sensual flamenco dance, the dramatic story of Carmen and the roles developed by the performers in Carmen, Bird of Prey – a variation of Bizet’s opera Carmen. Carmen, Bird of Prey premiered in January 2011 and was a co-production between DuvTeatern, Finnish National Opera and Blue Flamenco School of Dance.

Ever since its establishment DuvTeatern has challenged common conventions and conceptions of theatre by raising such questions as who has the right to be on stage and who is a real actor. The encounter with the world of the opera and its professional singers further highlighted these themes and enabled both performers and spectators to reconsider our notions of professionalism, self-esteem and beauty. For what is beauty? Who is worthy of admiration? And, finally, who is the true Diva?

The realisation of this series of photographs was made possible thanks to the sincere commitment of the eight actors of DuvTeatern and the four dancers of the Blue Flamenco School of Dance. This publication is a tribute to them: to their dedicated, creative and ambitious approach towards their work as actors and dancers.

There’s about twenty or thirty photographs in the exhibition, and they’re all absolutely compelling. In some exhibitions where there’s a lot of similarity in the style of imagery, you can find yourself browsing the works, walking quickly from one to the next. That wasn’t the case with this exhibition. As the works were all very personal, I felt compelled to spend time with each of them, and to look closely into the eyes of the people portrayed.

There’s also a video of the actual theatrical production, and so you get a sense of what that was like also.

If you’re in Stockholm over the next few weeks, I’d highly recommend this beautiful exhibition.

Driving Miss Daisy

Driving Miss Daisy

Sometimes when you go to the theatre, and there’s a standing ovation, you feel as though the audience was just being polite. There’s a legendary performer on stage, and they’ve done a good show, and so some hard core fans in the front row will jump to their feet, and through peer pressure, often reluctantly the rest of the audience will follow suit. That wasn’t the case tonight at the Sydney premiere of “Driving Miss Daisy”.

I only have vague memory of the movie from about twenty years ago. Before the movie, of course, there was a play, and that play is now back on stage again in Australia, starring Angela Lansbury, James Earl Jones and Boyd Gaines.

Not having much of a memory of the movie didn’t matter so much, as I had a vague idea before seeing the play tonight that it was about the thirty-year friendship between an older Jewish woman and a black American man.

In the background, we see the human rights movement of the 1960s transform the United States from a place where black men were often hanged by the KKK, and where synagogues were bombed, into something more modern, and hopefully more human.

Through their years together, the lead characters also both undergo a transformation. The culmination of which is the line “you’re my best friend” delivered by Angela Lansbury’s character when she tells the character played by James Earl Jones. I had more than a tear in my eye when that line was delivered. I also had a tear in my eye at the end of the play when the James Earl Jones character feeds the physically incapacitated character played by Angela Lansbury.

Seconds later the audience was on its feet in rapturous applause. The response of the audience was genuine. Nothing contrived here. Best of all? They didn’t milk it. They came on stage, received the standing ovation, and then made their way gracefully off the stage.

It was a good story, well told, and with wonderful performances. I’d highly recommend it.

A Chorus Line at Sydney's Capitol Theatre

What I Did For Love

It’s twenty-four hours later and I’ve still got the song stuck in my head………….

Even though I’ve known the song, “What I Did For Love” since childhood, I’ve never previously connected it with the musical, “A Chorus Line”. For me, it was always a torch song about love and all of that stuff. I’d never realised the “love” in the song was the love of “dance”.

A colleague – who has worked professionally as a singer – told me today she once auditioned for a role performing “What I Did For Love”. Almost as soon as she sang the opening the line, she was told, “stop stop stop”. To the laughter of the other people on the panel, she was told by one of them he was in the original cast production of “A Chorus Line” and could barely stand to hear the song again.

That’s the thing about performing a classic. Sometimes they can become a cliche. But when you hear one of those classic, almost over-sung songs, sung with emotion, and with a freshness, you hear insights you may have previously not heard. And that’s what I experienced last night, when a couple of friends and I went to see “A Chorus Line” at Sydney’s Capitol Theatre.

The basic plot of the musical concerns a group of sixteen dancers auditioning for the role of the chorus in a broadway musical. Of the sixteen, only eight will be selected. As I watched it, I couldn’t help but think of all of those modern talent reality shows where, one by one contestants are eliminated. Along the way, we’ve gotten to know the stories of these people on reality TV, and have begun to understand who they are as people. In “A Chorus Line” the elimination process is confined to just one moment. In some ways, the elimination is thus more shocking, but when the moment actually came, I knew pretty much who would go, and was mostly right.

It’s a great show and I really enjoyed the production. The theatre was almost full, so it’s a shame it’s closing this weekend. Lately we’ve seen a few major productions close early, so I guess the attitude of the producers was to limit the length of the season, and so when it closed, people were left wanting more. I think there’s a few tickets left for the weekend – maybe gone now – and so if you were interested, I’d highly recommend it.

James O'Brien and Jacqui Conroy/Yelland on stage at the Chaffey Theatre, Renmark

Life On Stage

Having previously blogged about “my life on stage” during my time living in Renmark, another reminder has surfaced this week. While living there, I also hosted both a fashion parade at the Berri Hotel, and the Riverland Dance Showcase at the Chaffey Theatre.

My friend, Jacqui was the person behind both events, and this week, she uploaded to Facebook a long-forgotten photograph of the two of us on stage together. There’s a VHS tape circulating somewhere, apparently which she says, she’ll do me a copy of and send. I might even Youtube it!