‘Merry Go Round’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by October 13, 2014

‘Merry Go Round’ is a lively and fun musical written by Bree Vreedenburgh. Bree wrote this sensitive drama in connection with WA Mental Health Week. Why does the fact that WA’s suicide rate is higher than the road toll, seem to go unmentioned?

This bright and original musical theatre can be seen at the easily accessible Latvian Centre Theatre, 60 Cleaver Terrace (bottom of the hill on the right – plenty of free parking) in Belmont. Presented by ARENAarts, this 150-minute show has curtain up at 8.00 pm, on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights until 25th October, there is a matinee at 2.00 pm on the 19th.

Part proceeds from the show go the WA Men’s Shed Association and Enterprise 33, an organisation that focuses on men’s suicide prevention and delivers post-suicide assistance for families.

 

The opening set is ‘another brick in the wall’, with a back lane wall covered in graffiti. The wall is removed to reveal an admirable fairground scene, complete with ice-cream stall, a beautifully painted backcloth depicting a big wheel, but the main attraction is a working horse ride / carousel that actually rotated! A masterpiece by the team of Peter Nettleton, Jim Chantry, Tim Prosser, and Gabrielle Dahmen.

 

        The back lane is where many of the druggies meet; sadly, Rhys (Anthony Smith) is one of these youngsters. There is a rousing opening number as the wall parts to reveal a lively, fairground with twinkling lights and all of the fun of the fair.

        The fairground manager, Mr Anderson (Graeme Cross) is asking his carousel operator, Alan (‘AJ’ Lowe) to stay on late and repair the Ferris wheel. 42-year old Alan has hit a low, and feels that he is being used. Despite one of his attractive assistants, Julie (Alison Arrowsmith) trying to cheer him up, he misses the ‘affection signals’ in her approach and he walks off the site.

       We next meet Alan at a Group Therapy Session, having been sent there by his GP. He is most reluctant to participate, especially when he sees the smiling, almost euphoric counsellor, Tim (Nima Raei). Alan looks around at the other members in the group; there is druggie Rhys, and aggressive punk, Ang (Rachael Maher) who is determined not to partake under any circumstances. Then there is the very smartly dressed Abby (Gabrielle Dahmen) and alternative lifestyler, Rosa (Dimity Wehr); oh, and in the corner, the one no one ever notices, Beth (Bree Vreedenburgh).

      As Beth sits in the session, she recalls her younger days as a dancer and singer. This flashback is brought to life by the graceful ballet of Brigitte Channer and Georgia Brice (both star quality for the future?). The chorus of Dee Rowlands, Hery Setiawan, and Stacee Parkinson gave extra life to the musical numbers.

      After his first group session, Alan is unconvinced and that night is approached in his dreams by the Devil (Kathleen Uhlmann), who, with the help of her fellow seductresses (Simonne Matthews, Sarah-Rose Kelly – the excellent choreography assistants) works her evil spell.

 

The stage management (Jane Sherwood, assisted by Chrissie Mavrofridis) was slick, although the occasional set of fingers coming around a flat in anticipation of a move brought a few laughs. By the end of the season, the two lasses will have muscles on their muscles with manually turning the carousel and its riders.

The sound quality (James Wilson) was excellent; it had tremendous depth and richness. The solos of Aussie music classics and a few numbers penned by Bree, gave every actor their own moment of glory. They seemed to have a backing group in the background? Simon James’s lighting design is brought to life by technician Mario Piccoli and operator Callum Calder. The theatre lighting is very limited, but the team gave true life to every musical number. In addition, the programme was high quality, full colour 16 sides of A5. Great costumes, but no credit listed in programme.

Director, Bree, freely admits that she wrote this play after having her own depression problems. This taboo topic appears to be a common problem, with 20% of the population having serious troubles at some time. This topic of this play looks like a real drag, a subject to avoid, but not for a second was it heavy going; it really was fun and with its rousing ending, most enjoyable.

The strong cast were filled with energy, plenty of smiles and several very good solos.

The dialogue started a little quickly after Anthony Smith’s solo, which was a shame as he was excellent, but the audience could not quite get their applause in. Gabrielle and Bree also had powerful melodic voices, but I am sure the cast will not mind me making special mention of Rachael Maher who has amazing stage presence. Every show that I have seen her perform in, she just captures the part with her voice, expressions and body language. Superb.

PLEASE don’t look at the topic, you are NOT going to be preached to, although there are many pearls of wisdom subtly in the script. This is a very good WA musical, and you will come out smiling and feeling uplifted. Congratulations to all concerned.