‘Portraits’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by October 14, 2016

‘Portraits – imagine if pictures had a voice’ is a semi-autobiographical piece that was devised for last year’s ‘Fringe World’ and has now been revised by the trio – Phoenix Theatre Inc., Lyrical Infusion and Sally Newman. It was sold out every night at Fringe, leaving quite a few potential audience members frustrated. So playwright Sally has transformed the ‘Round Room’ within the Memorial Hall, at 435 Carrington Street in Hamilton Hill with a community art exhibition. The performances visualise the artworks being brought to life, as they are described in live dramatic theatre, choral music and poetry.

The venue remains open after the show, to allow the guests to enjoy the setting, meet the stars and become acquainted with the artworks.

‘Portraits’ is an hour long, first-class show and it can be seen each evening at 8.00 pm until Saturday 15th October. There is an extra matinée on Saturday at 2.00 pm.

The wonderful venue, ‘The Round Room’ is actually oval, and has superb acoustics. The seating was ‘in the round’ with a central, mini-stage of white cubes. As an amateur artist, I expected this to be an exhibition of a few lame paintings, but the walls were crammed with quality local artwork. The pieces are superb, and most are for sale at giveaway prices, with a portion of the profit going to a most deserving cause, the Starlight Foundation. Stage managed by Alison Dirix.

 

       The audience pass the ‘Spirit of the Portrait’ (Chantal Kerkhof) and enter the theatre; the actors are living statues, situated quietly around the room. The Art Maître d’ (Jayde Clarke) welcomes us and then, in top hat and tails, the leggy narrator (Bethsaida Tapsall) introduces us to Serendipity (Em Rose), a bubbling, bouncy lady, who looks upon herself as another Queen of Hearts. Serendipity presents to us, Little Alice (Mikayla Wyartt) – straight from ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Alice displayed to us her youthful exuberance for life, before showing us her ‘older being’, the veiled, damaged, Dark Alice (Natasha Davison).

      The rear row of the audience stand and break into song, this is the Portraits’ Choir. They mingle around the room singing in perfect, unaccompanied harmony. The Acappella singers all had beautifully balanced voices. With gentle backing from sopranos Angharad McEvoy and Tallulah Starkie, Bhavna Venkat went centre stage with fellow alto, Jen Gadeke and sang ‘By the Wall’, a sad song, sung from the heart.

     The colourfully dressed, pessimistic Mad Hatter (Ryan S. McNally) introduced his dark and depressed friend, Mr Black (John P. Gray); but good shone through in the end, when young Master White (Nicholas West) and diaphanously dressed, Lady Rose (Zoe Jay) showed that pleasure and happiness is there if you look for it.

      The choir regathered as Liana Russell and baritone Michael Baker sang the moving, ‘Heavens Hands’. In Madrigal counterpoint, Sarah Hynes and Alisa Dowson rendered a beautiful and meaningful number, before vibrant Gabby Burrett rocked the place with a lively, country-style number.

      A mysterious gypsy woman (Kate Lloyd), adorned with gold necklaces and tokens of life around her neck, awakes. She encourages any of us who are feeling low, to rediscover ourselves, and to lay ourselves bare. A smartly, retro-dressed woman, the Voice of Eden (Elissa Heffernan) explains and encourages us to leave our low feelings behind and like her  friend, a beautifully adorned, body-painted model (painted by Elissa, model Gabriella Guidone, alternating nights with Ashleigh Riley and Stacey Wyartt) face the world with a new freshness.

 

Being a civil celebrant, Sally has developed a keen understanding of human emotions, and she has used this knowledge to great effect in this unique show. However, my greatest surprise was the incredible standard of writing. Richly written in several styles and genres, from Lewis Carroll to Keats, the prose, poetry and songs were professional and outstanding. Bob Dylan may have won a Nobel Prize for his writing, but I am sure Sally is not far behind.

Then, as the director, Sally Newman has taken a few – dare I say average performers, that I have known for years – and raised them, to confident, first class actors giving impressive, strong, meaningful performances that I suspect may have even surprised them too.

Sally, now with her musical directors, Lee and Ashlea, has gathered a bunch of youngsters who have never sung together in the past, and created an outstanding, enchanting choir. They had angelic, unfaltering voices that just had the audience asking for more.

The flawlessly styled costumes perfectly reflected the characters of the story.

Many of the performers are still teenagers, but every one of them showed amazing feeling and rapport with the words they were saying or singing. Moving around the audience they connected with individuals in the seats.

At the end of the evening, Richard Lilje, Bryan R. Dalton, Ella E and Ru provided light, background musical entertainment.

Truly, a gobsmacking evening that will blow you away.

Be sure to buy one of the quality programmes, designed by photographer Jarrad Sharman and Sally Newman, for a full appreciation of the event.

This is one of those rare occasions, when every show is deservedly sold out in advance, but telephone in case there is a cancellation.