The King and I (Play)

07/26/2014 at 3:02 PM (Performing Arts, Theatre) (, , , , , )

On Friday night, I attended the lavish and opulent production of Rodger’s and Hammersteins The King and I at the iconic Princess Theatre, home of the friendly ghost Federici. My dress circle seat in the middle of the third row gave me a magnificent view of the set. The King and I has been revived in Australia by Opera Australia and the Melbourne season stars Lisa McCune as Anna Leonowens, tutor to the children of the King, and internationally acclaimed actor Lou Diamond Phillips as the King of Siam (which is now Thailand).

The King and I is based on the Anna and the King, a novel by Margaret Langdon and is loosely based on the memoirs of Anna Leonowens, an English governess hired to tutor the favoured children of King Mongkut of Siam, including Prince Chulalangkorn. As he was a king that embraced Western culture and style of thought, The King and I showcases how the people of Siam, with some help from Anna, try to emulate Western customs when foreign dignitaries from the West visit so the King is able to suppress circulating rumours suggesting Siam is barbaric. Despite their cultural clashes, Anna and the King ultimately become very close. Meanwhile there is a side story about two young lovers, Tuptim and Lun Tha, but I found their interaction dull.

Before the curtains rose, the scene was set to depict Siam using four actors wearing the robes of monks meditating  on stage as incense permeated the atmosphere. When the curtains open, we  see Anna and her son arriving by boat as she has been promised a house if she were to teach the King’s children but he only decides to honour his promise much later. The costumes are sumptuous and extravagant, to create an authentic Thai experience as envisioned by British director Christopher Renshaw, with so many sequins and diamantes that they are almost blinding! Despite the misunderstanding of Western concepts at first and their initial shock at her lack of obeisance, the people at court grow to like and love and understand Anna, including the King. In the end, we see Anna’s teaching had a positive influence on the young prince as he changes the way his people show deference.

The highlight of the show is the ballet The Small House of Uncle Thomas which had a strong Eastern influence. It is loosely based on the anti-slavery  novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe.  The emotion displayed by Tup Tim in her narration of this play stood out way more than her chemistry with her lover. My favourite part was however when Anna and the King dances the polka during Shall We Dance. Others scores I enjoyed included I Whistle A Happy Tune when Anna’s son is scared and she shows him how to “make believe to be brave”, Getting to Know You when Anna is in the classroom introducing herself to the King’s children and the powerful delivery of Something Wonderful by the King’s head wife Lu Thiang, played by Shu-Cheen Yu.

Despite being a luxurious extravaganza and the spectacle of paying homage to a time-honoured classic, the production is paced well and accurately rendered. The set for The King and I looks authentic and uses authentic language including Thai phrases, imagery including Buddha, religious references  to Thailand and faithful depiction of Thai dance movements. It definitely can take you back a few eras to the Siam of the past!

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Stealing Picasso

08/10/2011 at 4:38 PM (Art, Australian Literature, Books) (, , , , )

Stealing Picasso is an interesting Australian book about the world of artists. While I have some knowledge of the subject history, by no stretch of the imagination can I say that I am a connoisseur. As the title obviously states, it’s about stealing a Picasso painting – from the NGV (National Gallery of Victoria) no less. The theft is carried out by a promising student, Harry, who owes money to a curator who helped him with his first exhibition in cahoots with his disillusioned art teacher, Turton Pym, who has given up on being an art genius and has decided he would mould budding geniuses instead. Things start spiralling out of control as soon as Harry meets the beautiful Miriam, an art buyer who is able to appreciate art unlike the ignorant masses.

He asks her to come see his first gallery exhibition where he has paintings inspired by the artistry of Picasso and the psychology of Freud. She does attend and what’s more, she buys the painting he thinks is deserving of having pride of place in a private collection. Unfortunately, Miriam had lied about her profession so her cheque bounced leaving Harry, a poor art student with a debt he cannot possibly pay. Most of the book revolves around a painting titled The Weeping Woman; a portrait of model Dora Maar, Picasso’s lover. Harry had promised Miriam a reward for buying his art – a secret midnight picnic near the painting with his teacher. So far the only people who had been privy to this experience were Harry and Turton. His teacher is first hostile about sharing The Weeping Woman with a stranger but after meeting Miriam, is entranced with her beauty. She discovers Turton has a secret passion – drawing cartoons of beasts on the motorcycles of a bikie gang lead by Larry Skunk. When she openly admires his handiwork realising the extent of his talent, it takes only a little on her part to persuade him to create a convincing forgery of the Dora Maar portrait and steal the real one. They decide they will steal the painting under the name Australian Cultural Terrorists and makes the news of the theft public through the newspapers when officials are slow to discover a Picasso is missing.

Stealing Picasso book cover

Enter into the scene, Marcel, a professional Michael Jackson impersonator who has had surgery to even look like the singer himself. Unfortunately this is set in the time where MJ was accused of being a child molester and this has a negative impact on Marcel’s chosen career. Oddly, he is a regularly painted subject by no other than Turton Pym. Marcel is forced into prostitution to earn income although he is conflicted. Sometimes he is roughed up by opportunists. By chance, he is introduced to Larry Skunk, who provides him with protection but this introduction ultimately leads to the downfall of all three when Marcel decides he will sell a forgery by Turton Pym to a biker for 30,000 dollars after the “real deal” has already been sold to an unscrupulous individual, Laszlo, for one million. When both owners of the paintings decide to sell it to the same customer to pay their debts, a barrister who reveals the existence of the other painting to the biker, all hell breaks loose.

In the midst of all this, Miriam drops a bombshell on Harry which reveals her motivations for deciding to sell the painting to Laszlo, who had outsmarted them. They find themselves in a quandary. If they reveal the true painting to the public secretly, Laszlo would send thugs after them but if they kept it, they would be hunted by the police. They decide it must be returned for public viewing but unfortunately not without some tragic consequences.

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Love Never Dies (Play)

07/04/2011 at 2:20 AM (Art, Performing Arts, Theatre) (, , , , , , , )

Love Never Dies, the sequel to the Phantom of the Opera, was a spectacular theatre performance in almost every aspect. Only being staged in a few select locations in the world, I was thrilled to be watching it at the Regent last night. The premiere performance of the show was attended by Andrew Lloyd Webber himself. Soon as I saw the magnificent and elaborate set which was complemented by skilful lighting and the Edwardian elegance of the setting, it took my breath away. Luckily my friend had secured some mid row seats which meant we had a fairly good view of the proceedings onstage.

This performance had a darker atmosphere as it was set in a circus in Coney Island, New York – home to freaks, the grotesque, the sinister and the weird. Naturally, such a place being the abode of the disfigured phantom (played by Ben Lewis) made sense. His opening number, the emotion stirring ‘Till I Hear You Sing comes at the very beginning and its haunting melody lingers with you until the very end. We are first introduced to the circus called Mr. Phantasma by three narrators: a dwarf, a strong man and a tall man. They were framed by a large white phantom mask that encompassed the stage and glowed with a red eye. According to the storyline, Christine Daae (played by Anna O’Byrne) is apparently coming to America to conduct a performance for Mr. Hammerstein in order to pay off gambling debts incurred by her husband, Raoul (played by Simon Gleeson). But the mother of the star singer of the circus, Madam Giry (played by Maria Mercedes), who had smuggled the phantom of the opera to Coney Island from Paris knows the impending visit will only threaten the future of her daughter, Meg (played by Sharon Millerchip), the current star of the show who wants the attention of the phantom, the owner of the circus.

When Christine and Raoul visit New York, they are accompanied by her ten-year-old son called Gustave (played by Kurtis Papadinis). He displays an astonishing talent with the composition of music and while he tries to get his father interested in his playing, Raoul shows no inclination or interest in his ability with the piano. He asks his mother if his father does not love him and she responds with a song asking him to see the love with his heart. Then after Raoul is summoned to conduct a business transaction with Mr. Hammerstein, the phantom visits Christine and then asks her to sing a song composed by him instead. This is when the phantom meets Gustave and is introduced by his mother as an old friend. It is only when the phantom hears the boy play the piano, he realises the boy has talents with striking resemblance to his own. Then he takes the boy to a place like another world where the song changes pace as it becomes a rock song called The Beauty Underneath which was a highlight, glass pyramid like rotating structures carrying mythic creatures inside spun on stage and the lights pulse in a bright orange glow.

Love Never Dies

But it was too early to reveal the truth about his face to young Gustave, who recoils in horror. Meanwhile feeling ignored and unwanted, Raoul spends time getting drunk at the bar. In his drunken stupor, he takes on a challenge proposed by the phantom. If Christine does not sing, Raoul will be free to leave with her and all his debts repaid but if she chose to sing, it would mean Christine had selected the phantom instead. This disappointed me because it made the phantom into a villain, Christine into a deceptive wife and Raoul into an ill-used man who had been burdened with bringing up the son of another man. This interpretation is not perhaps the expected one.

Unfortunately, Christine chose to sing, Raoul left her and she was reunited with phantom briefly until Meg’s jealous rage stepped in and she ran off with Gustave. When Meg finally had the attention of the phantom as she was on the brink of suicide, she tried to perform Bathing Beauty – which was a cheeky but cute number prior to the song by Christine. But the phantom as he tried to stop her made the mistake of telling her that not everyone was like Christine. Meg sets off the gun and the consequences ensure there would be no possibility of a sequel unless it was to be about Gustave. As she lies dying, his mother tells him the truth about his real father but he is at first hesitant to accept the fact. After he runs off to bring back Raoul, the phantom steps away to the side but the finale of the show is when Gustave gets brave enough to see the phantom without the mask.

Since this story is different in its characterisation to the original by French author Gaston Leroux, while I was definitely surprised at the tragic ending, it pleased me the scheming machinations of the phantom ultimately got rid of the trouble-causing woman. Despite the storyline not living up to that of its predecessor, it is worthy of Broadway just for the visual design of the set and the theatricality of the deeply hued costumes.

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Cirque Du Soleil – Saltimbanco

05/29/2011 at 8:26 AM (Circus, Performing Arts) (, , , , , , , , )

So I went to see a performance of Saltimbanco by Cirque Du Soleil last night. It was held at Rod Laver Arena, a sure sign of a large audience. We were in seats that were upstairs and the extra seating added downstairs made the stage seem quite small.  We started to watch the show without the assistance of a program so it seemed very abstract when the performers communicated in high-pitched squeaks, giggles and relied heavily on body language. The people in the more expensive floor seating were given more interaction with the performers with some being driven off their seats while the performers sat in them or when one member of the audience was separated from his shirt. Saltimbanco is based on traditional circus acts involving humans so what we mostly get is clowns, mimes, acrobats and trapeze artists. This is not the show you want to see if you prefer a narrative.

The bodysuit costumes worn by the performers in an array of different colours made them look like chameleons in my opinion apart from a couple with a fan robes that looked like birds.  They did look a little bit like Teletubbies crossed with leprechauns.  The synchronized dance choreography was quite spectacular as they moved in rhythm with the catchy beats. My favourite part of the show prior to the intermission was the Chinese Pole act. Several acrobats climbed up four poles on stage and performed jaw dropping, synchronized routines with amazing precision. Several times the acrobats dropped into free fall down the poles, heads hanging upside down but stopped just short of banging their heads on the floor. Then they swung off and joined the rest of the cast dancing around them. This should have been the opening or the finale though – not a midway act.

Then we are introduced to the clown again who treats us to some  jokes involving noises. Patrons in floor seating are urged to join in. In one instance, the clown pretend swallows a ball and then we are treated to the prospect of him digesting it and what happens afterwards. I really was not a fan of the clown – too many fart gags. The bicycle act was in better taste with an acrobat riding it backwards and forwards and performing somersaults and hand stands on it while it moved.  It was breathtaking to watch.  Then next was a performance with some boleadoras where two performers were using them in a tandem tap dance. It was a cool sight but not up to par as what came in the second half of the show involving the trapeze acts.

After the intermission, we were treated to the skills of a juggler mounted on a set of mini stairs. He stepped up and down these while his juggling balls stayed in motion in the air. Then there was a solo trapeze act set to some melancholy music and it was amazing to see all the somersaults and backflips defying gravity executed. There was not even a safety net underneath! The Russian swing was another highlight where performers jettisoned off it to form a human ladder and then tumbled on to a mat. In addition, male twins playing the role of strong men created human sculptures as they lifted each other, sometimes balanced with only one arm, and posed in positions likely to give an ordinary person muscle sprains while another duo trapeze act took place above.

The clown then involved another patron in a mimicked gun duel and had him follow a lot of poses instructed to him that we even thought he might be a plant except for the fact he didn’t know the steps. To signal the end of the show, four trapeze artists climbed up to the highest point on the arena stage and faced each other. Then after being attached to harnesses like bungee jumping cords, they jump, flip in the air and link their hands. This sequence is repeated several times in time with the music. The timing by these acrobats is so precise which means they avoid things that look like close calls. But then that is probably why they belong in the big leagues as performers with Cirque Du Soleil.

Note: The performers in the videos may not be the performers on tour.

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Creepy Crawlies – Sand Sculpting Australia : Part 2

02/28/2011 at 5:28 AM (Art, Sculpture) (, , , , , , )

13. Little Miss Muffet was cool on top of a spider:

 

Little Miss Muffet exhibit at Creepy Crawlies

Copyright: Sarasi Peiris

The sculpture is based on the nursery rhyme of the same name. It was first printed in 1805 in a book called ‘Songs for the Nursery.’ The sculpted Miss Muffet however is sitting on a Jumping Spider and not on a tuffet. Did you know it can jump up to 40 times its own body length? To identify them, pay attention to the eye pattern. They have four pairs of eyes with large pair of eyes in the middle.

14. Alice and the Caterpillar were chilling with the Cheshire Cat:

Alice and the Caterpillar at Creepy Crawlies

Copyright: Sarasi Peiris

Well, Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland won an Academy Award in art direction during its 83rd Anniversary – just saw it on TV about two hours ago. There is a hookah smoking caterpillar here with Alice and the Cheshire Cat nearby.

Caterpillars are the larvae of the Lepidoptera family of insects such as butterflies and moths. Because caterpillars are soft-bodied, slow movers, predators find them to be an easy target. To protect themselves, caterpillars use several methods like eyespots, poison, foul odours and camouflage. Despite being puny creatures, these guys have 4000 muscles while we humans only have 629.

15. Roach Motel was a literal translation – just made from sand:

Roach Motel exhibit at Creepy Crawlies

Copyright: Sarasi Peiris

Cockroaches usually are disliked by most people because of their preference for scurrying around in and consuming rotten food and other garbage. But these fellows can actually go without food for a month and hold their breath for up to 40 minutes. Kind of impressive. Because its brain is scattered throughout its body rather than being in the head is why cockroaches can run around for a week before thirstiness kills them.

16. Ant Farm based on a recreation of the Farmville game from Facebook:

Ant Farm exhibit at Creepy Crawlies

Copyright: Sarasi Peiris

Have you watched Antz or A Bug’s Life? Those are some cute movies featuring ant colonies. Large colonies mostly consist of  sterile, female ‘workers’ and ‘soldiers’, fertile male ‘drones’ and fertile female ‘queens’. They have great organisation skills and are social creatures. The only landmass that has no ants is Antarctica and some remote islands.

17. Frogs Galore was a surprising choice:

Frogs Galore exhibit at Creepy Crawlies

Copyright: Sarasi Peiris

They made it into the display of creepy crawlies because their quick movement, the way they can camouflage and the feel of their skin. Besides their diet is on insects such as bugs and flies and sometimes worms. Most frogs evolve after hatching from eggs as tadpoles. When the tadpoles grow, they lose their tails and grow the legs that allow them to perform jumping feats. Find more information on frogs here.

If you are in Melbourne and are interested in going, you are in luck. It’s open until April 2011 near Frankston pier.

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