Dramafest 2014 Session 7 reviewed by Richard Hyde

by September 29, 2014

The last session of Dramafest! What a ride. Well done Festival Director Emma Davis, ITA President Paul Treasure and his committee, host club Playlovers, all the volunteer front of house and bar staff, the technical staff, and the Adjudicator Adam T Perkins.

This session was a mixed bag of different styles which is to be applauded. It began with a farce called Hotel L’Amour by Playlovers. This was a curious beast that I didn’t really get. A businessman in the cattle trade is forced to share a hotel room with two female ‘fantasy tourists’ in a French themed establishment in the middle of a country town. From a writing pointing of view that’s a hell of a lot going on to explain for a one act play. I didn’t quite understand all those separate working parts so together it was as busy as the cluttered stage. I would suggest stripping this back to only one quirky element and build the farce from there, for example a French themed hotel in a country town. I didn’t get who or what the women were and references to one of them being a slave were confusing. They came across as sex-starved yet were chaste enough to ask him to leave the room when changing.

I found male lead David Cosgrove’s delivery very rushed so had trouble following an already problematic script. One of the female ‘tourists’ was quite softly spoken which didn’t help. Ze ‘eavily accented French innkeepair ‘ad a nice showee part and I liked a couple of her in-the-moment adjustments – kicking the roll of carpet back down after a corner had been tripped up, and working with the broken curtain without breaking character. There was surprisingly quite a lot of mugging to the audience but this whole production needed to be simplified and the writing really sharpened to earn that sort of stylistic choice. Written by Peter Bibby and directed by John Senczuk this starred David Cosgrove, Anne Speicher, Vickie Billingham, and Olivia Colja.

From farce to stand-up, the next act was a ten minute spotlight by Adrian Smith called The Cost of Living. An observational routine covering traffic snarls and childcare issues to politicians in general, the performer didn’t really attack it and his lack of confidence left the material flat. A learning experience in front of a good sized but friendly audience, Smith will need to sharpen both his material and delivery.

Then we had our first performance and movement piece, an adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream focussing on the fairies in the woods called Sleepless. Predominantly movement with some dance to a contemporary selection of music, this featured a large ensemble of young performers and was very stylised, nicely costumed and looked great with simple lighting effects. There were occasional dialogue excerpts from the source material, notably the lovers who were all played by female performers. Some familiarity with Shakespeare’s comedy would have been handy but the use of flowers to symbolise the fairies magic as characters fell in and out of love was well done. This was a lovely change of pace for the festival and was a great inclusion. Directed by Josh Walker and presented by Stirling Players Youth and the Shadowlight Darkly Theatre Company, Sleepless featured Matt Randall, Angela Donlan, Steve Anderson, Kylie Webb, Ellie Prober, Keren Schlink, Tahlia McQuade, Michael Moshos, Mia Robertson, Brendan Ellis, Benjamin Costantin, Shannon Berry, Alana McKenzie, Sarah Cubbage, and Jessie Williams.

Lastly, and fittingly, the final production of Dramafest was Noel O’Neill’s superb Under Any Old Gum Tree. Beautifully written and brilliantly performed by Kieran Garvey (with Rex Gray in support), this was powerful, moving, insightful, occasionally funny and a blistering exploration of the devastation the Great War caused on those who survived No Man’s Land. Garvey plays real life Martin O’Meara VC who came to Collie from Ireland then went to the trenches of France where he survived that most brutal of wars only to end up in a mental institution. This is a powerhouse 50 minute monologue that was emotionally-affecting such was the craft on display in all facets. Simply staged, well-paced, with Garvey truly outstanding, this will no doubt rightfully feature in next year’s 100 year ANZAC commemoration. A highlight of the festival written and directed by Noel O’Neill for the Old Mill Theatre and in association with the Australian-Irish Heritage Association.

Now, I did not see all seven sessions and the awards have already been handed out but these are my selections from the six sessions I did attend:

Best Production: Under Any Old Gum Tree

Special Mention: Picasso’s Women and Mag and Bag

Best Actor: Kieran Garvey (Under Any Old Gum Tree)

Best Actress: Sharnya Thompson (Picasso’s Women)

Best Writing: Noel O’Neill (Under Any Old Gum Tree)

Best Directing: Christine Ellis (Picasso’s Women)

Best Comedy: Love and Other Flushes

Best Ensemble: 4AM

Best 10 Minute Spotlight: Judgement Call

Best Youth Production: Sleepless

Most Disappointing Performance: The insipid Sydney Swans who didn’t use the front half of the stage at all, didn’t commit to an opinion at any point, and had no sense of play. Suggest they not be invited back next year.

That’s it for my first Dramafest. Hope you’ve enjoyed the reviews and see you next year!

Richard Hyde