The Casual Vacancy (J. K. Rowling, 2012)

Obviously I very much wanted this book to be awesome, and I’m pleased to tell you that it WAS.

Rowling opens with a series of brief character snapshots, which get you completely hooked by the time she plunges into the sordid depths of a town and a council filled with people you mostly hate, but are fascinated by and perversely rooting for, all the same.

In this, it reminded me of Christos Tsolkias’ The Slap, which I must admit I didn’t get much more than a couple of chapters into; because that really was too ugly for me, though I’m prepared to concede that I might have felt differently had I pushed on with it.

There was never any question about pushing on with this novel. It is one compulsive read, and every bit as suspenseful as anything of hers I have ever read, despite its conspicuous lack of wizards.

She gives the most accurate representation of the machinations of an insular community that you could ever hope for – its government, its festering wounds and the age-old prejudices between its haves and have-nots. She articulates so perfectly the enraging, hackneyed arguments of the small-minded and privileged that I found myself getting worked up on many a character’s behalf.

She captures what can be the mad mental anguish of being a teenager, not to mention just being a person, or a part of a family, so well that I found it a little confronting, to be honest.

But at no point was there any danger of me putting the book down, no matter how close to home it sliced.

An extraordinarily intense reading experience, ideal book-club fare, and a satisfying kick in the pants for all who have ever tried to tell me she wasn’t a great writer.

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A Chorus Line (Burswood Theatre), October 26, 2012

IMG_0585One thrilling combination?!?

In a word, no.

Having said this, I really have no specific fault to find with this show. Perhaps it’s a case of something you’ve built up in your mind to be so powerful being inevitably disappointing.

And truly, it was only very slightly disappointing and I’m still trying to put my finger on what it was. Was I secretly hoping Michael Douglas would actually appear onstage? I don’t think so…

The staging was minimalist, as befits a show about the stripped-down, unadorned story behind the scenes.

The dancing was undoubtedly very tight and very slick, and a joy to behold. Cassie’s tortured solo, as she tried to express her frustration with both her impassive ex and her situation, was a powerful bit of dancing, and they did a little something with the lighting that made this part really stand out.

There was plenty of humour, as there should be, and the characters were as fleshed out as they should be in such a dialogue- and character-driven musical.

But with the word musical, I’m inching closer to the source of my dissatisfaction. Because, honestly, there was only a whisper of dissatisfaction. I’m “praising with faint damn”.

It just wasn’t… musical enough. Not one of those vocal solos – and the show is basically all vocal solos – really had my spine tingling. The singers, though certainly competent, just didn’t seem that memorable. Remembering Jemma Rix in Wicked, and how her voice made me want to weep and made my skin prickle even the second time I saw the show, makes me realise that not one of these numbers moved me in the way I wanted.

I waited and waited to hear Nothing, the song Diana sings, and look, it was good, but it just wasn’t great. And the dancing is all well and good, but the singing is what makes you really care about those people, and if you don’t really care, it’s a long time to sit and listen to emotional stuff.

Happily, spine tingles eventually came… One was introduced slowly, almost spookily, and in general given the attention it deserves.

By the time the (damned fine) chorus line finally hit the stage, the Ministry and I started to wiggle in our seats and grin at each other. They did an awesome job on that ending, even down to working the performers’ final bows into it. Just seeing those high kickers strut their stuff made it all worth it, and I grin to remember it.

So, overall, I’m happy.

 

Not the Boy Next Door (Astor Theatre, October 19, 2012)

Sometimes I wonder if this blog is too complimentary. Well, fear not. I’m definitely wearing my “I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed” hat today.

I’m a nutso Peter Allen fan, and therefore a nutso Todd McKenney fan. I went to the Boy from Oz. I bought the T-shirt. I went to a cabaret show of Todd singing Peter’s songs a year or two later at the now-defunct (I think) theatre on Beaufort Street. Can’t remember its name. I was so offended when Todd got dumped in favour of the more-famous Hugh Jackman for the international tour, I have harboured an irrational hatred of Hugh ever since.

I was so excited when I heard about this coming to the Astor, the Ministry was touched and paid for both of our tickets so I could show him the wonder and magic of Todd McKenney’s beautiful singing voice and intimate knowledge of one of the most compelling and tragic showbiz biographies ever.

I was not even put off when M (not the Ministry, the Matriarch) told me one of her friends was so disappointed in the show she and her husband walked out, and afterwards wrote to the Astor to complain about the show’s excessive volume, among other things. Old people hate loud music, I reasoned. And the Astor can’t do anything about the fact that you were stuck behind (quote) “three fat tarts”. I was blithely confident that the show would be awesome.

Imagine my dismay when the Ministry and I settled in for the first – deafening – number.

DEAFENING.

Knowing every word of the song, I was heartbroken to hear its nuance and beauty swept away by this raucous treatment. This may be an inevitable result of putting music theatre in a building originally intended to house movies, but you could not discern a single word of the song. The rest of the first half went pretty much the same.

Inexplicably, Dancing with the Stars contestants were made part of it. Well, I think they were contestants, or winners, or ex-contestants, or some-such. I wouldn’t know, because I DON’T WATCH DANCING WITH THE STARS. I WATCH MUSIC THEATRE. AND WHEN YOU SAY A SHOW IS ABOUT PETER ALLEN DO NOT TALK ABOUT DANCING WITH THE STARS. And he did talk about Dancing with the Stars. Far. Too. Much.

If it were billed as a variety show half about Dancing with the Stars, and half about Todd himself, and the remaining 0% about Peter Allen, then cool, whatever, I just won’t go. But Peter Allen’s story is subtle, and sad, and compelling, and it deserves a bit of respect and a bit of atmosphere. In this show at least, it didn’t get it.

Yes, there were some interesting anecdotes about Peter Allen’s life. But the Dancing with the Stars element was jarring. The bawdy jokes/stand-up style was a little bizarre. Todd didn’t even seem quite up to the job physically, pouring sweat and panting almost too much to joke about pouring sweat and panting. But not all the songs even needed such energetic, showy treatment. I would have been ok with it if he just sat on a stool, and talked and sang, and recreated the world of Peter Allen’s youth for us.

So the Ministry and I left at interval time, and went home and listened to the Boy From Oz original soundtrack, and I drank in Todd McKenney’s pitch-perfect voice with a glass or two of tawny port.

For disclaimer purposes, the second half may well have been much better. Perhaps my expectations were all in the wrong place. I’m sure a lot of people enjoyed it. For many, it was probably a good show. But I just didn’t have the time or patience to give it any more of my time. My faith had been broken.

Don’t worry. I’m sure next week I’ll be back to my complimentary, exuberant self. Because, after all, most of the time my judgement about what is awesome… is faultless.

Turbo Blog

  • The Sending: The Obernewtyn Chronicles, Book 6 (Isobelle Carmody, 2011)

I might have to read this again from the beginning before the last and final book in the Obernewtyn series comes out. I just dont think I can wait long enough for my appetite for this series to be sated. I think I got the first book in the series nearly 20 years ago, and it speaks volumes about the quality of the writing and the plots that I enjoy it as much, if not more, now.
Of course the books have gotten bigger, and bigger, and bigger, and could now double as weapons, or crook-stoppers, as the Ministry calls them.
I confidently predict that even those who don’t get into fantasy would love this epic post-apocalyptic series.

  •  Gabriel Iglesias’ Stand-Up Revolution (Astor Theatre, October 14, 2012)

Phwoar. This guy is not the world’s most You-Tubed comedian for nothing. If you do nothing else today, Google Fluffy and be prepared to laugh your ass off.
This show was more like a rock concert than a stand-up gig – Fluffy’s support acts were awesome, and then the main act, the lovably obese Latino himself, ran nearly an hour over. He ended up talking until his on-stage “reminder” clock ran out at 99 minutes, at which point he giggled and happily pulled its plug out.
Then, and only then, did he stop with the brand-new material and obligingly do all the fans’ most beloved routines, which they deafeningly requested then nearly sang along with everypunchline.
It was a powerful, positive, bizarrely touching event to be a part of, and I laughed until I nearly passed out.

  • Dark Shadow (2012)

Tim Burton’s latest (I think) offering would surely be a deep disappointment to any fan of Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands or The Nightmare Before Christmas. Noticeably lacking the dark, disturbing quality of his earlier work (even his relatively recent work, like Willy Wonka), the movie is stylish but shallow.
It’s not stylish enough to be watchable purely as eye candy, and it’s too shallow to be enjoyed even as B-grade fluff. Johnny Depp is peculiarly lacklustre, and even his visual gags about being an ancient vampire struggling to understand a modern-day society are barely enough to raise a snicker.
The villain is so two-dimensional and lazily thought-out she is ridiculous, without any feelings or motivations except a deeply irrational desire to be loved despite being a murderous witch.
Only bother watching this if you are so hungover you can’t get off the couch and change it to something else.

Pinocchio (WA Ballet, His Majesty’s Theatre, 2012)

The story reads like something from an acid trip: Geppetto carves a puppet, Pinocchio, which a fairy appears to give life to. Pinocchio tries to crush a singing cricket, then pays a cat and a fox with a book to get into a stage show. A puppet-master gets mad, but then gives him coins.

To get his coins, the cat and the fox attack Pinocchio, who hides the coins in his mouth. Pinocchio gets hung, but is only injured. When he recovers, the cat and the fox steal his coins while he dreams about Geppetto drowning.

For some reason, he wakes up,  travels to Play Land, turns into an abused donkey, is thrown into the sea, becomes a puppet again, gets swallowed by a shark, reunites with Geppetto inside (hey, what do you know?) turns back into a real boy and escapes with Geppetto.

The WA Ballet does a mind-bendingly contemporary version of this outrageous tale, which by all accounts more closely resembles the original book by Carlos Collodi, written in France in the 1800s.

Those crazy French.

The staging is breath-takingly beautiful, the costumes fabulous, and the story-telling done with a touching humour and whimsy, though it is undeniably dark and definitely creepy.

The show uses not only traditional ballet to tell the story, but also operatic singing, contemporary dance, limited dialogue and puppetry. In fact it is the only ballet I have ever seen that does any of this.

The staging of the scene after the shark swallows Pinocchio is particularly spectacular, but my favourite moment was an achingly sad solo dance by Geppetto as he drowns in flickering blue light, with a gentle, lovely accompaniment by the WA Symphony Orchestra (WASO).

I must say at this point that WASO did a highly original, memorable job at the music.

This is much more geared towards theatre lovers who are sceptical or lukewarm about ballet than towards die-hard traditional ballet fans.

But for those out there who fit that description, I urge you to hie to His Majesty’s before the season closes… tomorrow (sorry).

Turbo blog

Those with short attention spans rejoice! I’m low on time this week, so I’m keeping it snappy with a handful of snippets.

IMG_3467

  • 3rd Rock from the Sun (1990s)

Working through it all over again. As good as ever. Pluses: baby Joseph Joseph Joseph.

  • movie: Kid (Disney schmaltz), 2000

Watchable, harmless couch fluff. Pluses: Bruce Willis being suave, and a funny fat kid.

  • Stranger than Fiction (2006)

Funny and clever. Win. Have never liked Will Ferrell but he does a great job in this. Win. Also, movie has Maggie Gyllenhaal, Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman. Win, win, win. Also, is about literature and baked goods. ALL THE WINS.

  • Hope Springs (2012)

Entirely watchable, but don’t bother seeing it at the movies. Funny but cringey. Would be worthless without Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones (who plays his usual crusty old bugger with an intimacy problem).

  • Easy A (2010)

I know, I’m so behind the rest of the world. Fun, with racy dialogue and a Mean Girls-ish flavour. Highlights: Emma Stone is nice to look at, and one of her adorably dotty parents is Stanley Tucci who even The Lovely Bones couldn’t stop me trusting.

  • Body Melt (1993)

My partner – let’s call him the Ministry of Magic – had a birthday so watched this as a gift to him, cause he’s been talking about it for ages. Worth watching just to see various Blue Heelers cast members and Harold from Neighbours being younger, but still wobbly-jowled. Also, of course, for the bodies melting. Would make a great drinking game.

The King is Dead! (2012)

I’m on a bit of a Rolf de Heer (of Bad Boy Bubby fame) kick, after hearing about this new film. If you can find this, watch it. The Matriarch and I loved it.

A young Aussie couple move into a cute little house in the suburbs: their dream home, they think. On one side, a normal, sweet couple with a little girl: on their right, some scary, loud neighbours are in and out of the house of King.

They endure the constant sounds of domestic violence next door, nocturnal visits from vagrants, burglaries and break-ins to their home and plead in vain with the harmless but hopeless crackhead, King, to control what’s going on next door.

The cops can’t do anything, and after being pushed to their limit by some disturbing and nasty events, they decide to take matters into their own hands.

It is understated and naturalistic in de Heer’s usual style, and the black humour and constant feeling of dread and malice build through the entire thing. You end up laughing more than you normally would at stuff that isn’t, or shouldn’t be, funny, just to release your mounting tension.

It’s a funny film, but it never goes for the cheap, easy laughs. It doesn’t go for predictable character types. Nobody is entirely good, or entirely evil, and you are kept guessing up to the end. It’s unbelievably, unbearably suspenseful.

Four stars.