Tag Archives: Prime Focus

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.


Keyed-Up recital series



Zen Zeng (piano) and friends

reviewed by Helen Fintlean


This was a Keyed-Up program with a difference, very far away from the standard piano recital format that audiences have experienced over the years. Instead, we saw a host of artists who featured in a program of music and dance from Spain.



In the first half of the program, Zen Zeng drew on the keyboard repertoire of the Iberian peninsula in works by Albeniz, de Falla and Turina. It was the last mentioned’s Noche de la Feria and La Ofrenda in which Zen Zeng sounded most at home, giving point and meaning to music seldom heard here and  which, in lesser hands, might easily have sounded prosaic. And nimble fingers were a prime focus of attention in Falla’s much-loved Andaluza as they were, too,  in the villainously demanding El Puerto and Corpus Christi en Sevilla from Albeniz’ Iberia.


In the minds of most people, flamenco is inextricably associated with the guitar. But in recent decades, there has been a growth of interest in piano music in flamenco style – and here we heard Zen Zeng in her own Solea which fell most agreeably on the ear.


In a most resourcefully compiled program, we also heard ace percussionist Steve Richter in duo with Zen Zeng in Camaron de la Isla’s Rosa Maria. I admired the skill with which piano and percussion integrated. It was an offering of considerable charm. Indeed, throughout the evening, Richter’s very real understanding of percussion made his every contribution most appealing.


Later, Zen Zeng was joined by castanets virtuoso Deanna Blacher in arrangements for piano and castanets of two of Granados’ most popular Danzas Espanolas. These were highlights of the program which, for those who have attended numbers of Keyed-Up recitals in the past, would have been considerably off the beaten track and opening new aesthetic vistas.


In a collaboration between Zen Zeng and Danza Viva Spanish Dance Company, Nicola de la Rosa gave a performance of splendid technical accomplishment, controlled emotion and exceptional grasp of style in a traditional Tangos – and was later joined by an on-form Karen Henderson in a no-less spirited and lively Bulerias. And to conclude the proceedings, something quite unexpected: an arrangement for castanets and piano of Rimsky Korsakov’s much loved Flight of the Bumblebee which brought the house down.

 Zen Zeng

Waiting for Godot (Beckett)



His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth(Australia)

reviewed by Neville Cohn


Although the prime focus of pre-season publicity and advertising for Waiting for Godot was Sir Ian McKellen, (quite understandable bearing his huge celebrity in mind) it would be fair to say that on-stage honours were shared equally by the four main players. Indeed, having experienced a number of productions of Beckett’s masterpiece, each with its particular strengths (and weaknesses), I would unhesitatingly place this presentation at the forefront; it riveted the attention – and for all the right reasons.


I cannot too highly praise the skill which each of the players brought to the production; their ensemble was flawless. The four brought priceless skill to their acting.


As Pozzo, Matthew Kelly was superb, a towering figure (in both histrionic and visual terms) who came across as the apotheosis of cruelty, an incarnation of callousness, not least through his indifference to the plight of the unfortunate Lucky. The latter, played by Brendan O’Hea, gave the performance of his life. Literally bowed down by the weight of the heavy bags he carries, his hopelessness and defeat would surely have moved even the most indifferent of theatregoers. His death-like pallor and bedraggled, colourless hair made him wraithlike.


For almost all the time he’s on stage, Lucky utters not a syllable. But, when he does begin to talk, one could sense an almost palpable initial relief on the part of the audience willing him to have his say. But, as ever, when the luckless Lucky finally opens up, there’s a seemingly unstoppable torrent of muddled, incomprehensible verbiage, so much so that – and this invariably happens – one begins heartily to wish he had never opened his mouth.


As Estragon and Vladimir, McKellen and Roger Rees respectively were beyond reproach. A facial gesture here, a flick of the wrist there, a frown, a smile, a snatch of  song and a softshoe shuffle, a chuckle, a sigh: these were the minutiae of a magically matchless offering where the impact of the whole was far greater than the sum of its constituent parts. Have audiences ever before encountered a more engaging couple of hobos than those given us courtesy of McKellen and Rees?


Young Craig Hyde-Smith did well as the messenger of the mysterious, ever-absent  Godot.


During intermission, I overheard a playgoer bitterly complaining that Godot was a play about nothing. Perhaps so – but I’d any day watch this ‘show about nothing’ with its myriad subtleties and veiled meanings than the one George Costanza had in mind in the Seinfeld TV series.


Sean Mathias worked wonders as director. Lavish laurels to set designer Stephen Brimson Lewis for dreaming up an altogether appropriate visual environment for the playing out of Beckett’s masterpiece with what looked like the a dark brick wall of some huge industrial building as a backdrop with, on either side of the stage, a representation of a crumbling, double storied mansion with, stage centre, a tree, bare but for a very few leaves, all, for the most part, bathed in the curious, greyish-silver light design of Paul Pyant.