Tag Archives: Academy Of Performing Arts

Stalin’s Orchard (Chris Edmund and student collaborators)



Chris Edmund (director)

Enright Studio (W.A.Academy of Performing Arts)

reviewed by Neville Cohn


Yet again, Chris Edmund has demonstrated impressively and unambiguously that, in theatrical terms, he is a master when it comes to the evocation of political terror. The prime focus here is two men with almost limitless political power and who, in different ways, have callously misruled over a great people.


Stalin's Orchard'   Photos: Jon Green c 2010


According to the printed program, Stalin’s Orchard is written by Edmund in collaboration with the cast but throughout its compulsively watchable duration Edmund’s near-flawless directorial touch is everywhere apparent.


Alas, the hoped for amelioration of the Russian people’s plight after decades of hideously cruel rule by Stalin and those who came after him until the rise of Gorbachev brought some hope to a cowed population, has not eventuated to any significant degree. Now, another cynical and ruthless politician presides over the nation with an ever-tightening hold on the Russian people who react to the current dispensation, as ever, with stoicism.


Stalin’s Orchard is a 90-minute-long, compulsively watchable series of vignettes, almost each one of which has the vivid stamp of truth. Here we watch as Stalin, that arch-cynic and mass murderer of his own people, demonstrates his appalling and complete power over the very existence of the people he rules with ruthless disregard for the civilised norms we take for granted. And the rot that has set in under Vladimir Putin is demonstrated in numbers of ways but especially in the white slave trade that enriches the few and humiliates and debases too many of the defenceless weak.


Young in years the cast may be, but each brief scene makes its point in a striking way –  and this would be largely due to Edmund’s faultless directorial touch. There are many very ugly truths in this production in a play that brings us face to face, as it were, with the terrible dilemmas that are routinely the fate of just about every Russian citizen except for those given official protection and who get away, quite literally, with murder if it suits their callous requirements.


Throughout, three crones – on stilts! – give a cackling commentary. Were these offered as a type of homage to the three witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth?


The only reservation was the decibel levels of Stalin’s voice which sounded uncharacteristically loud. Unlike those who came before him, for instance Lenin, whose oratorical style involved a great deal of shouting cum hectoring with extravagant arm waving and fist pounding, Stalin made a conscious decision to always talk softly in public or in broadcasts to his cowed people.


Despite the need for frequent, very rapid costume changes, the play came across with  unflagging onward momentum. There wasn’t a dull moment; it was, in fact, consistently fascinating. The players are young – they are all 2nd year acting students – yet they confidently handle what would be a very great theatrical challenge. Bravo!.


Stalin’s Orchard deserves an international audience.


Parade (Alfred Uhry/Jason Robert Brown)




West Australian Academy of Performing Arts Theatre

reviewed by Neville Cohn




photo credit Jon Green c 2009 WAAPA



In the minds of most people, lynching, with all its connotations of hideous violence, is inextricably and exclusively associated with the murder of African Americans by white supremacists in the USA.


Parade, however, focuses on a victim who was abducted and hanged by anti-Semitic vigilantes in 1915 in the southern state of Georgia.


The story is, briefly, this: a girl – Mary Phagan – who works in a pencil factory managed by Leo Frank, is found murdered on the premises. The completely innocent Frank is charged with her murder and is found guilty and sentenced to death. Eventually, the governor of Georgia commutes the sentence to life imprisonment.


Not long afterwards, while at a prison farm, Frank is abducted and lynched. None of the lynching party, which incredibly, included lawyers, a court prosecutor and the son of a senator, was ever held accountable. Decades after this miscarriage of justice, Frank was posthumously pardoned in the 1980s.


I had wondered whether so dark and tragic a story was suitable for treatment as a music theatre piece. But any reservations I might have had about this evaporated only moments into the piece. By even the most severe of critical standards, this production of Parade was riveting stuff. Near-perfectly paced, its two-hour-long duration flew by in a production worthy of high praise.


In this multi-faceted offering, the youthful players in a large cast came up trumps again and again. The pivotal role of Leo Frank, who was 31 years old when he met his terrible death, was played as if to the manner born by Brendan Hawke, who captured the character’s stoic, rather prissy and edgy personality nuances to the nth degree. And Laura Page as Lucille was no less convincing as the wife who refuses to cut and run but stands loyally by her man. Lucille, incidentally, was scion of a prominent Jewish family which decades earlier had founded the first synagogue in Atlanta.


Whether coincidentally or by design, Hawke and Page are strikingly similar in looks to the characters they play.


Rather oddly, the role of Frank’s do-nothing lawyer Luther Rosser was played, very competently, by a woman Naomi Livingston. But what was the point, if any, being made?


Nearly all the large cast sang multiple roles.


It says much for the skill which Uhry and Brown brought to their creation of Parade that despite the trappings usually associated with the genre, the dancing and singing in no way robs the story of its tragic darkness.  Bobbing, weaving and twirling, the dancers brought Bernie Bernard’s choreography to exciting, pulsing life. Drew Weston, as reporter Britt Craig, was a particularly impressive presence.


David King presided splendidly over events, conducting a big instrumental ensemble positioned at the rear of the stage. Throughout, singing was of high standard as were Tony Gordon’s lighting and Jess Tran’s imaginative set designs. Cale Watts’ costumes did much to establish a sense of era. Crispin Taylor’s directorial touch was everywhere evident not least in consistently meaningful deployment of an unusually large cast.

Faith Court Orchestra




Ben Martin (piano)

Music Auditorium

W.A.Academy of Performing Arts






reviewed by Neville Cohn



Since Peter Tanfield took over the direction of the Faith Court Orchestra, it has improved so significantly that it sounds like an altogether different – and more proficient – ensemble to that of, say, a couple of years ago.


Tanfield comes to Perth with impressive credentials. A former student of Yehudi Menuhin, he was a prizewinner at the Carl Flesch International Competition. He has taught extensively in Britain, Spain and Germany. Tanfield came to University of Adelaide in 1998 to lead the then-Australian String Quartet. He has been co-ordinator of classical strings at WAAPA since last year.

Ben Martin

Ben Martin


Tanfield’s direction of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 5 was impressive. I had wondered whether tackling this masterwork might have been overly ambitious. In the event, my reservations evaporated only moments into the work.


While a uniform tonal sheen in the various subsections of the strings is, on Wednesday’s evidence, still more a hope than a reality at present, and although some of the lower woodwinds need focused work in relation to intonation and tone quality, the overarching, grand sweep of Tchaikowsky’s Fifth was most commendably achieved.


Tanfield did wonders in extracting fine detail from his forces, his face eloquently mirroring the emotions he so skilfully coaxed from his young players. It augurs impressively for the FCO’s long-term prospects.


I particularly liked the tone of the brass choir, now bold and assertive, now warmly expressive, especially the French horns who gave a most musical account of themselves. A bouquet to Samuel Parry for consistently musical work on the oboe.


Ben Martin was soloist in Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No 2. As ever, this prince of the piano did wonders at the keyboard, in an interpretation that was in the best sense lucid, cogent and stylistically apt. It is perhaps quibbling to point out some minor slips in the finale. Certainly, the overall effect was first rate, not least for Martin’s finely honed skill in unbottling the often turbulent genie that lies behind the printed note.


As for the accompaniment, one wondered whether the lion’s share of the FCO’s rehearsal time had been devoted to the symphony because there were moments in the concerto when ensemble weakened and entries were tentative.