Under Milk Wood – Preview

Under Milk Wood – a must-see VA Production.

From a very early age the great Welsh poet Dylan Thomas fell in love with the sound of language and showed brilliance with word play. Although of Welsh heritage, from Swansea, South Wales, Thomas wrote exclusively in English. Nevertheless, he connected all his life with Welsh landscapes and people, and lived there most of his life.
Nowhere is his boldness with language and understanding of his own people more evident than in Under Milk Wood, his most famous, and last, work, completed in 1953 just before his death aged 39. Its inspirations are Welsh villages where he lived at different times with his wife Catherine.
Set in the fictional village of Llareggub, (read backwards) the play has often been described as dreamlike and hypnotic, its characters and events introduced by a narrator (First Voice) who gently steers us in and out of the lives of the village people, both living and dead, over one 24 hour period in spring. It’s about ‘nothing’ yet ‘everything’ to quote one commentator. It has musicality, mournfulness and mischief, say others – a depiction in a sense, of Wales itself.
The power of Under Milk Wood is rooted in the magic of language in the hands of a master. Life is conjured through word play, snippets of conversation, asides and monologue. A ‘play for voices’ commissioned by BBC Radio, it’s been adapted many times for stage, and twice for film.
Valley Artists are now offering their own fine staging of this masterpiece (adapted by Janine Oliver and Chris Davey), with experienced director/producer Janine at the helm. It’s a daunting challenge, but they and their team are more than up to it. At the first run- through rehearsal, I was struck by strong similarities with dance. The wondrous musical language leads, the rest follows, yet characters, place and language are indivisible.
The cast of 15 (covering 57 parts) – including some first timers on stage – bring us the accents, the feel, the look, of an authentic 1950s Welsh fishing community. The set is an ingenious intimate ‘pop up’ village that takes us right into its rooms and streets. Accomplished sound and lighting support and experienced backstage teams complete the production.
We’re used to the VA way of doing things: numbers of talented committed volunteers just making it happen, at a very high standard. We try not to take it for granted. And they’ve done it again.
I feel sure you’ll find this delightful production of Under Milk Wood amusing, moving and memorable. For a short time only, a bunch of unforgettable folk from of a South Wales village are ‘popping in’ to our New South Wales village and valley. It’s definitely worth getting to know them.
Under Milk Wood performances: 30, 31 Mar, 1, 4, 5 6, 7 April, Laguna Hall.

Bronwyn Duncan

The God Of Carnage – Review

Full disclosure – The God of Carnage is NOT, as I first assumed upon hearing the name of Valley Artists latest production, the blood soaked account of a psychotic deity’s rampage across the muddy fields of some medieval wasteland (as much as I would like to see Bob Philippe depict such mayhem).

What it is however, is a thoroughly engrossing 80 minute depiction of two, very much small ‘c’ civilised couples progressively ripping into each other both verbally and physically while entirely failing to sort out the branch wielding shenanigans of one son that led them to meet in the first place.

The often blackly comic action, played out entirely in Craig Howe and Micaela Elphick’s painfully tasteful lounge room (wonderfully rendered as always by the VA’s set creation team) flows nicely from early brittle politeness through to increasingly bitter accusation and finally to the out and out carnage alluded to in the title. In a performance without breaks and absolutely jam packed with dialogue, all four actors barely miss a beat.

Darren Philip’s horrendously pre-occupied lawyer is a joy to behold as he constantly answers the call of his (ultimately doomed) phone while Karen Jones does the business for Valley Artists once again as his increasingly desperate, increasingly nauseous, then increasingly pissed and phoneocidal, wife.

On the other side of the room Micaela Elphick and Craig Howe show just how uncomfortable it is possible for two unhappily married people to be. I pity anyone on the receiving end of one of Micaela’s withering looks in a non-stage setting. Craig for his part provides many of the play’s most humorous lines, even if a fair number of them are at the expense of a hamster that is tragically missing, presumed dead, at his hands.
The play benefits greatly from running uninterrupted by interval or scene breaks allowing the action to rampage forward in truly chaotic fashion as intended by its author Yasmena Reza. Bob Philippe’s experienced hand on the directorial wheel is of course steady as always and the production values are of Valley Artist’s usual high standard. Catch it over the next week or spend your life wondering why you didn’t.

Matt Thomas
27 May 2016.

Butterfly Dandy – Review

Miss Mirabella is an ageing vaudeville soubrette in 1905.  She yearns to be part of Mr Harry Rickards’s Tivoli group; yet she knows, deep down, that she will need to do something new and different to attract his attention.

She would rather not take advice from her accompanist Tommy; but she will.

Fiona Migan-Philip is a perfect Miss Mirabella.  She is all soubrette, but one who faces reality:  soubrettes are “all 16” these days, and she … isn’t.

With great reluctance, she agrees to Tommy’s suggestion that she change her spots, and become a “pantomime boy” … or a male impersonator …

There are a number of quick changes as Mirabella tries on her new persona.  Tommy offers his own trousers, and the mime sequence of Mirabella attempting to get into them, and walk in them, is priceless.

Tommy could have been played as a simple foil for Miss M.  Darren Philip does much more with the part.  Tommy has depth and subtlety; indeed, his quiet determination (which achieves his aim of turning Miss Mirabella into the Butterfly Dandy) has almost feminine qualities:  he is understated but determined, he persists, he gets his way.  He looks well in a red satin skirt, too.

This is Fiona’s first stage role, and she is outstanding.  Her voice is a delight.  She is funny, confident, then insecure; determined, then self-doubting.  She asks Tommy for ideas, spurns them, returns to them.  It’s not an easy part; she masters it.

Underlying the discussion of how to change and re-invent Miss Mirabella, is the question of the period:  the place of women in society.  In 1905, women have just achieved the vote … but who are they?  Does the women’s vote mean no more than “two votes for a married man” – or does it rock the previously solid foundations of men’s belief that women are decorative, useful, and not much else.  Do they “cogitate”?  Miss Mirabella explores the concept – among others.

Costumes are critical; Mirabella changes often, Tommy less but occasionally.  There are some quick changes, which can be tricky.  Lynda Marsh (Costume Design & Wardrobe) has created not only lovely and period-perfect costumes, but has made them (when required) easy to shed and replace.  Sounds simple?  It isn’t.  Careful design and attention to the smallest detail makes it work.

The play as written has lyrics to the fifteen songs, but no music.  Here Valley Artists have exceeded themselves.  Clare DiNatale (Song Development & Vocal Coach), Jason Tyler (Song Development & Lead Piano) and Andrew Ross (Musical Consultant) have created the music which is essential to this production, and which perfectly supports the story, the period and the characters.  It’s a tour de force, this music; a remarkable job which deserves to be a permanent part of this musical comedy.

This is Dain Southwell’s debut as director.  The production is thoughtful, witty, often hilarious – and there is depth, and a conscious look at the matter of women’s place in society.  The ability to weave this discussion into a musical comedy is a feat.  An excellent debut.

Gail Scott

Can’t Pay! Won’t Pay! – Review

Can Pay. Should Pay….cause it’s entirely worth it.
Just to make clear the political orientation of this play – on more than one occasion, it pointedly accuses the Communist Party, yes that Communist Party, of being not really left wing enough. So not likely to be on Andrew Bolt’s list of things to see and almost definitely absent from the National Curriculum being currently prepared by our duly elected Minister for Education.

Not that I was overly aware of this until I was half way home on account of the layer of unapologetically slapstick hilarity laid down over the rhetoric with enthusiastic abandon and consummate skill by Director Bob Philippe and his very able cast of five (…..or eight, if you count all of Tim Williams’ near identical twin brothers, none of which I had the slightest idea existed until last night).

Karen Jones as Antonia, gets through an absolute mountain of dialogue as she first ropes her less than enthusiastic friend Margherita, played with excellent comic timing by first time actor Karen Toohey, into accepting the proceeds of an ever so casual major shoplifting incident, then spends the rest of the play more or less successfully convincing their two less than perceptive husbands (Ross Fletcher and Peter Firminger)and one similarly clueless Police Inspector (Tim Williams) that the large bag of stolen goods Margherita has stuck up her overcoat is in fact something else entirely.

See the play if you want to find out what.

Ross’s Giovanni is a perpetually active study of comically conflicted chaos and Peter’s Luigi plays off him nicely as his rather more politically pragmatic friend (though still sadly lacking in knowledge vis a vis the female reproductive system). Both were perfectly suited to the roles, even if I was initially confused by Peter’s complete lack of facial hair and the fact that Karen and Karen seemed to have stolen his signature long black coat look.

Tim Williams as, well, about 50 different characters, demonstrates a level of verbal and physical fitness that boggles the mind, as he effortlessly plays half the play’s cast entirely by himself. I for one am quite happy he never went into law enforcement.

Technically of course the whole thing went off with the practiced efficiency that is a hallmark of all Valley Artists productions. So, well done to the team of creative lunatics that yet again put together such an awesome set and to all those running about in the shadows wearing nothing but black skivvies and presumably really cool night vision goggles.

Bob Philippe has once again presented the valley with a production well worth stumping up $25 for and I recommend doing just that as soon as you absolutely can …….even if he does seem to be suggesting we should all pop into Cessnock and clean out Woolworths.

Matt Thomas

Educating Rita – Review

Date: 13-May-14

Author: Tony Palfreeman

We have seen Alan Glover in a wide variety of roles, from the stand up comical to the tragi-comical to the simply tragic. But none of these labels fits this pas de deux, featuring Cath Patterson as Rita and Alan as Frank.

Their Educating Rita is a multilayered venture into the connections between student and teacher, exuberance and exasperation, self-confidence and self-doubt, excitement and cynicism.

Alan expertly captures the character of Frank, as a mid- level academic, now teaching Open University courses for extra cash, addicted to the booze, and with a disillusioned take on academia, on teaching, and on life in general.

Rita is a Liverpudlian hairdresser set on expanding her horizons by enrolling in Frank’s English literature class. What they learn together about each other’s hopes and fears, mindsets and class structures, language and expression, is at the heart of the story. Cath Patterson, in her debut acting performance, brings much verve and energy to the role of Rita.

The theatre in the round approach is an interesting departure from the usual. Giles Tester’s imaginative stage set is Frank’s study, furnished with the teacher’s usual paraphernalia of books, papers and the odd carefully concealed bottle of alcoholic pick-me-up, and allows director Robyn Blackwell to ensure the audience feels  intimately engaged.

There is no space here to congratulate all individuals in the dedicated team, drawn together by Robyn, producer Camilla Dorsch and Stage Manager Andrew Jones, to add one more star production to the Valley Artists’ firmament. A terrific night’s entertainment.

Willy Russell wrote Educating Rita in 1980, reprising a theme introduced by George Bernard Shaw in his Pygmalion written in 1912. Both writers would be as pleased as Punch to see their timeless theme replayed by the Valley Artists in our own Laguna Hall, so many years later.

Tony Palfreeman
May 2014

The Golden Ass – Review


“This is all very disappointing.” While this was one of my favourite lines from Valley Artists’ recent production, ‘The Golden Ass’, it in no way represents the play. I was privileged to see this show twice and loved it both times.

First-time Director Craig Howe, in conjunction with a big cast and crew, gave us a very funny and thought-provoking evening. With complex sets portraying a mountain-side, a farm-house and barn, a tavern (‘The Gilded Armpit’) and three different masters’ workshops, enthralled audiences of adults and children were very credibly transported from location to location at rapid-fire pace.

A goat-farmer’s three daughters (played by Audrey Howe, Matilda ‘Tilly’ James and Gabby Miller ) took turns tending to the family’s prize goat, before each being thrown out of the family home after the goat (misunderstanding the reason why the family wanted her fattened up to peak condition) betrayed them to their father. The daughters’ characters interacted well with their parents, particularly with their mother, and they each had an interesting take on the skills they learnt during their various apprenticeships.

As always, Ken Barnett and Karen Butler- Hues gave realistic and hilarious performances, this time as the farmer husband and his wife – even having to be ‘reminded’ to reappear on stage in the morning after they had retired to bed in the previous scene. Ken played a rather tough and disbelieving father perfectly then showed great remorse after learning of his goat’s duplicity. Karen’s over-melodramatic style was perfect for a mother struggling with the daily realities of a harsh life to feed her family (and what food it was!) who also had to face seeing her daughters unjustly sent away.

‘The Guilded/Gilded Armpit’ was staffed by a very able Ben James who played his evil character in the style of the great silent movie villains. The bar patrons portrayed their characters with great enthusiasm (there must be a much younger drinking age where the play is set).

As the local mayor Alison, the only human actually named in the play, Reanna Ede played her part with great aplomb, switching from an obsequious character looking to make great riches to a nose-in-the-air snob when she found it was not to be.

This brings me to newcomer Matt Thomas who carried four roles in the play. He showed great flexibility in his performance, first as a bored and unwilling Narrator, before transforming himself into the three masters (a carpenter, Alpaca breeder and Martial Artist). For those of you who missed the show you will probably never have the opportunity to experience a Kung Fu Master with the unexpected “och aye” accent. Hopefully we will see Matt’s comic skills again in future Valley Artists productions.

On a final note, both the goat and the ass of the title, played by Oliver Debus and Rudi Howe, performed with much vigour and imagination. It was also fascinating to see the amount of independence shown by the rear end of each of these animals!

Anyone who missed this show should be kicking themselves in the ‘ass’. We look forward to seeing much more from the actors who made this show such a success. Kudos also goes to those behind the scenes from wardrobe to sets, sound and lighting and the production team. We also thank you for the time and effort you have put into what is among the best Valley Artists productions I have seen.

Judy Waite